When It Comes to Immigration Reform, ‘Border Security’ Is a Red Herring
An analysis by Marshall Fitz and Philip E. Wolgin shows there may have been some validity to the concern about border security in the past, but what validity it had is all in the past.
One of the most common refrains voiced by opponents of immigration reform is that it must wait until the federal government has secured our border with Mexico and enforced the nation’s current immigration laws. Ten years ago those claims carried some force. At the time, there had been large-scale undocumented migration for a sustained period, the border was relatively porous, and immigration enforcement in the country was less organized than it could have been. Ten years later, however, the facts on the ground have changed dramatically.
The fact of the matter is that the border is more secure now than it has ever been. And yet some members of Congress continue to insist that the border is unsafe, and as such, that they will hold immigration reform hostage until we have secured the border. With more than $17 billion spent each year on immigration and border enforcement, this is not only a misguided approach but an expensive one as well.
To combat a lack of understanding, this infographic attempts to shine a light on the current state of immigration and border enforcement. Here we compare the current state of the border with border-security benchmarks included in both the 2006 and 2007 Senate bills. Those benchmarks have now been met, and in most cases surpassed, by the investment of unprecedented resources in border security efforts.
The infographic and the rest of the text are at this link: Infographic: Setting the Record Straight on Immigration and Border Enforcement
In that graphic, note especially the box labelled ‘The Myth of Operational Control’. Definitions for the term ‘operational control’ have changed over time, and sometimes depend on the audience. This is from the Washington Post’s Wonkblog on January 29th:
Legislators have failed to pass a sweeping immigration overhaul for more than five years. But there’s one piece of the 2007 immigration reform bill that they’ve managed to accomplish: pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into border security.
In fact, even though the 2007 immigration bill ultimately failed, we’ve nevertheless hit nearly all of the targets that it established for increased border security—except for achieving absolute ‘operational control’ of the border and mandatory detention of all border-crossers who’ve been apprehended.
Finally, the 2007 bill also called for what’s known as ‘operational control’ of the entire border, which the 2006 Secure Fence Act defined as ‘the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.’
Experts generally agree that ‘absolute’ control of the border is practically impossible, so DHS has instead defined ‘effective’ operational control as ‘the ability to detect, respond, and interdict illegal activity at the border or after entry into the United States,’ as a Congressional Research Service report explains.
The new chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) told Alberta Phillips of the Austin American-Statesman that all we need to achieve operational control is some of that equipment that we’re almost done with in Afghanistan.
So I talked to Napolitano and they are talking to (the Department of Defense) to redeploy these assets. And when they do that, we’ll probably travel down to the border to showcase that we have these new assets down there. The technology piece is the missing piece to the border. We’ve done a pretty good job of tightening it up, but the technology we need still is not down there.
So the technology piece regarding the border is important in immigration reform laws?
To finally say it’s secure, that we have operation control now. Now we can determine who’s coming in, who’s not and now we can talk about immigration reform for those who are already here or a guest-worker program.
A month earlier, he told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News that Mexico could be ‘the next Benghazi’.
And when I was in Juarez, same protections we had in Afghanistan, to show you how violent it really is. And you know, the host country needs to protect our diplomats and our agents, just like in Benghazi, the failure there. And we can’t really afford to have a Benghazi situation happen right next door, just south of us in Mexico.
And I’m very concerned with these trends, with these ambushes on our agents and diplomats, that that’s the next thing to happen.
Arizona governor Jan Brewer said on January 7th that it should ultimately be the people who live near the border who say whether it’s secure or not.
On Monday, when pushed for what she would consider secure, Brewer said a starting point would be to make the entire border as secure as the Yuma Sector.
The Yuma Sector, which covers about 126 miles from the west end of Pima County to the Imperial Sand Dunes in California, had about 5,800 apprehensions in a 10-month period ending last July 31. By comparison, the 262-mile Tucson Sector, which covers the balance of Arizona, had more than 105,000.
“I think that would be a goal,” Brewer said. But she said the real test is whether those along the border feel secure.
“We can talk to the people that are affected personally by the border,” she said. “And when they say that border is secure, then I think that we can rest peacefully.”
On January 29th, Brewer elaborated on that point in an interview with Phoenix NBC 12 News anchor Mark Curtis.
CURTIS: Governor, would it be safe to assume that you’re in the camp with the gang of eight in terms of, yes citizenship could happen down the road but not until the border is secure?
BREWER: Yeah, I could probably say that. I’m more comfortable with the bipartisan bill that was presented yesterday by the senators, the eight senators. I thought that they got more into the details, and I’ve had the opportunity to speak to Senator McCain and Senator Flake and they all agree, basically as I do, that I think we have issues out there, situations that we’ve got to resolve. I think everybody in America knows that. But, I think the concern is, which comes first, the duck or the egg. I believe that the majority of the people believe our security on the border needs to be dealt with before anything goes forward, meeting the demands of what we know some people want.
CURTIS: How would you define a secure border, when would you be satisfied that the border is secure?
BREWER: I, you know, having dealt with this now for many many many years, not only since I’ve been governor, but I think I would rely on those experts in my office, the people that have looked at that, they have all the data and the information and they’re reaching out to the communities that have to deal with it, the experts in my office, certainly the law enforcement experts along the border and inside the border. Those people are experts, they know what they’re facing day in and day out and then I think the people, certainly the people at the border. They’re the ones that know, the ranchers, the farmers, the people that live down there day in and day out. If we can all come together and there’s an agreement, then that is an operational, controlled border and we know what it looks like. We see it in California and we even see it here in Arizona in Yuma, but we don’t have that operational control in the Tucson sector.
The reason for the repeated focus on the Yuma Sector is that the Government Accountability Office released a report almost two years ago that said the Yuma Sector had achieved operational control. Then they quit using that term.
In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security stopped using ‘operational control’ as the measure of border security and adopted an interim measure that used the number of apprehensions to measure success. Homeland Security officials said at the time that more comprehensive performance goals were under development, but they have not been put in place.
A new report from the GAO was released Jan. 9th, addressing the need for meaningful measures of effectiveness of efforts to secure the border. Homeland Security Today has a very good article about that, and contains a link to the report itself.
US Border Patrol’s 2012-2016 national border security strategy — its first new strategic plan in eight years — began to be implemented more than a year ago. But the report of a new congressional audit that was released Jan. 9 said Border Patrol ‘has not identified milestones and time frames for developing and implementing performance goals and measures [for the plan] in accordance with standard practices in program management’ that are essential ‘to defin[ing] border security and the resources necessary to achieve it.’
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) of El Paso is a new member of the Homeland Security Committee. He doesn’t call border security a red herring, but he comes pretty close.
O’Rourke also said he believes he can use his role on the Homeland Security Committee to help propel sound immigration legislation.
He and Ruben Garcia, executive director of the Annunciation House, which assists at-risk migrants, said they challenge the notion that immigration reform must be conditioned on first assuring that the border is secure.
“I am surprised at the extent that ‘securing the border’ is still such a big part of the conversation, and that reform is being conditioned on making the border safe,” Garcia said. “These legislators need to look at what the U.S. has done in relation to enforcement over the past 10 years. However, I am glad to see that the momentum for immigration reform is building, and I’m very happy that President Obama will speak about this (today).”
Jan Brewer said it’s a question of “which comes first, the duck or the egg”. I think she’s talking about apples and oranges, in order to defer or deny any chance for real immigration reform. I hope the tactic fails.