By: Kathleen Campbell Walker

Has the goal of immigration reform for our current dysfunctional system truly met its match in the constantly changing condition precedent of “Border Security?” The Secure Border goal has been a consistent roadblock thrown up against any form of immigration reform moving forward on the Hill since 2007. Let’s face it, even Secretary Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is working hard to try to develop a quantifiable index to measure our border security level to establish the location of the goal post. In her testimony on May 4, 2011, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Secretary Napolitano noted that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had begun the process of developing an index supported by CBP and third party data to measure security comprehensively along the Southwest border as well as the quality of life in the region. In outlining her border security report card before the Senate, Secretary Napolitano noted the following accomplishments among a longer list:

  1. DHS increased the size of the Border Patrol to more than 20,700 agents (double its size from 2004).
  2. Mobile response teams including up to 500 agents provide new surge capabilities to areas on the Southwest border on an as needed basis.
  3. DHS provided a record $123 million in funds for Operation Stonegarden in 2009 and 2010 to state and local law enforcement agencies in Southwest border states to pay for overtime costs and other border related expenses.
  4. President Obama authorized the temporary deployment of up to 1,200 National Guard personnel to assist law enforcement agencies in targeting illegal smuggling networks of people, weapons, and money.
  5. Predator Unmanned Aircraft System coverage had been provided for the first time along the Southwest border from California to Texas.
  6. Using the $600 million allocated in the 2010 Emergency Border Security Supplemental Appropriation Act, DHS is adding 1,000 new Border Patrol agents by the end of FY 2011, 250 new CBP officers at ports of entry, and 250 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, who investigate transnational crimes.
  7. DHS entered into partnerships with more than 60 law enforcement agencies in Arizona and the government of Mexico to deter and interdict those engaging in criminal activities posing a threat to the U.S. The program is called the Alliance to Combat Transnational Threats (ACTT).
  8. In FY 2009 and 2010, ICE removed more unauthorized foreign nationals from the U.S. than ever in the past with more than 779,000 removals nationwide.
  9. As to reducing the employment of undocumented workers, E-Verify (web based employment verification system), which is managed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS,) is experiencing an enrollment of more than 1,300 new employers each week. In FY 2010, E-Verify processed 16.4 million queries as to employment authorization.
  10. From January 2009 to May 2011, ICE audited more than 4,600 employers. It debarred 315 companies and individuals and imposed approximately $59 million in financial sanctions.

In concluding her testimony, she noted that illegal immigration attempts had decreased by 36% in the past two years based on Border Patrol apprehensions and that apprehensions are less than a third of what they were at their peak. In developing the new border “index,” Secretary Napolitano indicated that to evaluate the condition of the border and the effectiveness of DHS efforts, the index would need to also incorporate metrics as to the impact of illegal cross-border activity on the quality of life in the border region along with traditional data such as apprehensions, contraband seizures, and crime statistics.

This effort to quantify was in part a response to a less than laudatory report issued by the GAO in February on Border Security entitled, “Preliminary Observations on Border Control Measures for the Southwest Border.” This report focused on the achievement of “Operational Control” of the border. Operational Control was defined by DHS as the number of border miles where Border Patrol had the ability to detect, respond, and interdict cross-border illegal activity at the border or after entry in the U.S. Border Patrol reported that it had achieved varying levels of operational control of 873 (44%) of the 2,000 miles of the southwest border by the end of FY 2010. The highest level of “control” for the rating applied if the Border Patrol had a high probability of apprehension upon entry versus after entry (controlled). Operational control was also established under the second rating of “managed,” which applied if a high probability of apprehension was predicted after entry. Only 15% of the border miles under operational control were classified at the highest “controlled” level. This ability to detect and apprehend all illegal entries did not include the ability of the Border Patrol agents to detect those who use ultra light aircraft and tunnels. It is important to note that none of the southwest border miles received the lowest level of control label (remote/low activity), which applies when information is not available to develop a meaningful border control strategy because of inaccessibility or lack of resources.

On September 7, 2011, the GAO issued the following report entitled “Department of Homeland Security Progress Made and Work Remaining in Implementing Homeland Security Missions 10 Years after 9/11.” As to performance measurements, the GAO opined that, DHS strengthened its performance measures in recent years and linked its measures to the DHS’s Quadrennial Homeland Security Review’s missions and goals. However, DHS and its components have not yet fully developed measures for assessing the effectiveness of key homeland security programs, such as programs for securing the border and preparing the nation for emergency incidents. While improvements have been made, the department needs to continue to work to strengthen its measures to more fully assess the effectiveness and results of its programs and efforts to inform any needed adjustments.” Well, yes – we are well aware that it is extremely difficult to come up with an acceptable yardstick of metrics to measure border security performance, when it appears we cannot reach agreement on what the target goals must be. Therefore, how can DHS or Congress be held accountable?

To put border security accomplishments in historic perspective, the National Immigration Forum recently issued its 2011 Border Enforcement Resource Guide outlining border security actions. The U.S. Chamber also issued its report entitled “Steps to a 21st Century U.S.-Mexico Border,” which emphasizes that, “The pressure on our border caused by wait times at ports of entries and consulates, and the discrepancy between temporary work visas and the demand for work in the United States must be addressed through a comprehensive immigration reform bill to truly secure our borders and make our immigration system work for our nation and not against it.” Along that vein, the June 2011 report entitled “The ‘New American’ Fortune 500,” published by the Partnership for a New American Economy, indicates that more border security spending alone will not stop the flow of illegal immigrants and that a full path to legalization would add $1.5 trillion to the GDP based on the January 2010 report published by the American Immigration Council and the Center for American Progress (“Raising the Floor for American Workers”).

In August of 2011, the Center for American Progress in its report, “Safer than Ever A View from the U.S.- Mexico border: Assessing the Past, Present, and Future,” argued for the less myopic approach to border security. This approach has also been promoted by the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and many other groups in a report issued by the CFR Independent Immigration Task Force in July of 2009 (chaired by former Governor Jeb Bush and White House chief of staff, Thomas “Mack” McLarty). The CFR report contended that “no enforcement effort will succeed properly unless the legal channels for coming to the United States can be made to work better.” Thus, “the U.S. government must invest in creating a working immigration system that alleviates long and counterproductive backlogs and delays, and ensures that whatever laws are enacted by Congress are enforced thoroughly and effectively.”

You would think we would have figured out and implemented this answer by now, but it appears that Lazarus has been resurrected again in political debates, including the September 7 GOP debate in California, in which Governor Perry called for more border agents and criticized President Obama for failing to do enough with immigration reform. He actually stated that, “For the President of the United States to go to El Paso, Texas and say the border is safer than it’s ever been, either he has some of the poorest intel in the history of this county or he was an abject liar to the American people…It is not safe on that border.” Former Governor Romney discussed continuing a fence along the entire U.S./Mexican border and adding more border patrol agents as well as stopping the magnet of employers willing to hire unauthorized workers.

It appears that Governor Perry needs some major intel assistance as to what is going on in his own state.

  1. In November of 2010, CQ Press named El Paso the safest city in the United States among cities with a population of more than 500,000. The rankings are based on FBI crime statistics.
  2. In 2010, El Paso (population approx. 625,000) had just five homicides while sister city in Mexico, Cd. Juarez had 3,000. Austin, the state capitol of Texas, with a population of approximately 796,000 had 38 homicides in 2010.
  3. USA Today conducted an extensive survey of crime statistics in July 2011 of the U.S. southern border states. It found that violent crime rates were on average lower in cities within 30, 50, and 100 miles of the border.

For those of us who actually live on the Southwest border, (I have lived in El Paso now for about 26 years) I think most would state that we are sick of political rhetoric. We also know the difference between CBP officer staffing levels at our ports versus Border Patrol staffing for agents addressing the areas between our ports and ICE agents working on interior enforcement challenges. Bottom line: until we agree on realistic and measurable border security goals, we will never achieve them. In the meantime, we are shooting ourselves in the economic foot by failing to chew gum and walk at the same time. Yes, we need immigration reform, and yes — we can always improve border security. Don’t let the political hot potato of the definition of border security, operational control, or border “whatever” be used as an excuse to refuse to fuel an immigration based economic engine to help us out in hard times.