Having returned from its summer recess, Congress will soon construct its legislative agenda for the rest of the year. Given that today marks the eighth anniversary of 9/11, Congress should honor the memory of that tragedy by solidifying its homeland security agenda. That means taking the right steps to keep the nation safe, free, and prosperous. Heritage analysts Jena Baker McNeill, James Carafano, and Matt Mayer outline some dos and donts for Congress’ Protect America Agenda.

Congress Should:

Amend the Stafford Act. The 1988 Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act did not contain strict enough limits on what can qualify for a federal “disaster” declaration. As a result, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has routinely ignored the Stafford Act’s pliable requirement and treated even comparatively small disasters as requiring a federal response. Although very few disasters that occur in America are truly beyond the capabilities of state and local governments, this reality does not aid those who see natural disasters as “very political events.” Congress should redefine what constitutes a disaster under the Stafford Act in a way that includes only those disasters that truly overwhelm state and local response–a step that would ensure that scarce tax dollars are used when needed the most.
Scrap the 100 Percent Mandates. Congress’s 100 percent scanning mandate for maritime security and air cargo continue to plague DHS. The department cannot find a way to meet the mandate in a way that is practical and cost-effective and actually enhances security. Furthermore, most security and supply chain experts argue that the mandates are unnecessary and would add little security. Congress should rethink these unworkable mandates before more time, money, and resources are wasted.

Reform the Homeland Security Grant Structure. The 9/11 Commission said homeland security grants were becoming pork barrel legislation. The commission was right. DHS continues to hand out grants based on highly suspect criteria. This is, for example, the case with UASI grant program for urban areas. DHS continues to expand the number of eligible cities, spreading even thinner the finite resources available. And it also allows states to keep some of the funding, depriving high-risk urban areas even further. Congress should reduce the number of UASI-eligible cities to the 35 highest-risk cities and require 100 percent pass-through of UASI funds, ensuring that the money goes in the locations where it is needed the most.

Encourage State and Local Immigration Enforcement Efforts. The federal government has consistently failed to address the ever-growing illegal immigration crisis. As a result, states have begun enacting their own legislation and policies aimed at reducing illegal immigration from a grassroots level. But federal law still hangs over the states and localities as they take these steps. For instance, the Immigration Reform and Control Act carves out exceptions for state and local initiatives only if they deal with “licensing or similar laws” concerning the employment of illegal immigrants. States, however, still retain extensive police powers by which they can control illegal immigration in their jurisdiction and have the inherent power to enforce federal law. Given these powers, the federal government should encourage states and localities to devise innovative methods of enforcement that do not call for federal intervention. Congress, for its part, should look to eliminate statutory restrictions that limit the actions that states and localities can take to curtail illegal immigration.

Congress Should Not:

Do Not Encourage Illegal Immigration. This year Congress has pushed forward several proposals that would encourage illegal immigration. These “silent amnesties,” such as the DREAM Act (which would give education benefits to illegal immigrants) andthe Ag JOBs Act (which would give amnesty to illegal agricultural workers), would erode rule of law and be costly to the American public.

Do Not Punish Tourists. Tourism dropped after 9/11, but taxing tourists to get them to come back makes no sense. The Tourism Promotion Act was reintroduced this year in both the Senate and House. This legislation would create another government entity–this time a corporation, funded on the backs of foreign tourists–to promote travel to the U.S. Instead of taxing tourists, the government should focus on making travel to the U.S. easier by expanding the Visa Waiver Program, improving visa services, and upgrading infrastructure at key ports of entry.

Do Not Subsidize Hurricanes. The Homeowners Defense Act (HDA) would create a catastrophic insurance fund–like the bankrupt and highly inefficient National Flood Insurance Program–that would provide government insurance to homeowners and businesses to protect against the next catastrophic hurricane. Such legislation would, essentially, require all Americans to subsidize those who live in hurricane-prone areas and would allow the states to create unrealistic disaster insurance programs and once again turn to the federal government to cover losses.