Senate's flawed border approach
President Obama recently claimed success in securing our borders, stating “over the past four years, we’ve tried to patch up some of the worst cracks in the system.”
That is precisely the approach the Obama administration has taken with border security. Without ever having a national strategy, the number of border patrol agents has doubled since 2004 in an attempt to “patch up” the nation’s porous borders, only to see the problem shifted instead of solved. The Senate has now voted to repeat the same mistakes again.
An example of the outcome of this non-strategy can be seen in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. As the New York Times recently reported, for the first time since 1993 the number of apprehensions in the Rio Grande Valley has surpassed apprehensions in the Tucson, Arizona region – a longtime hot spot for illegal crossings. The focused enforcement in Tucson has pushed illegal crossing toward Texas, according to the Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol.
In what will inevitably continue the ad hoc strategy that has failed for decades, the Senate’s Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744) continues to throw money and resources at the isolated areas of the border without requiring actual, measured progress to be made.
The Senate’s “border surge,” which doubles the size of the current border patrol, is a textbook example of government waste, as it gauges progress using inputs instead of outputs. In fact, the standards originally planned for the bill were sold for $30 billion.
As POLITICO reported, Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) “dropped their demand to make the path to citizenship for country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants contingent upon the government achieving a 90 percent appre hension rate along the border. In return, they secured a staggering $30 billion for what is now being called a ‘border surge.’”
Ironically, this agreement was welcomed by the same administration that has repeatedly claimed the border is more secure than ever.
We need a long-term strategy that is adaptive, not a multi-billion dollar laundry list of arbitrary assets that we have no guarantee will ever be deployed, much less deployed properly. For example, the Senate plan claims to mandate a fence, but in reality Secretary Janet Napolitano can decide not to build a fence wherever the administration deems it unnecessary or inappropriate.
Additionally, the “surge” terminology is misleading. The annual training capacity and recruitment rate for Border Patrol agents is only a fraction of the 20,000 new agents called for in the Senate bill, which means that residency status would be granted for millions before security increases, which is precisely what happened the last time around in 1986.
As former U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Robert Bonner recently wrote, “the so-called border surge proposal would simply throw a phenomenal amount of money at border enforcement without achieving control of the border.”
Ultimately, the Senate bill puts the cart before the horse by allocating billions before a plan is in place. While the number of agents and funds sent to the border are important, anyone who understands management knows that how those assets are used is infinitely more important. When manpower, resources and technology are deployed without an overarching strategy to achieve a specific, measurable goal, these elements are often duplicative, short-sighted or wasted entirely.
To address border security the right way, in April, I introduced bipartisan legislation that ensures results. H.R. 1417, the Border Security Results Act, demands a plan, verified by outside experts, before one dollar is spent on new resources. The bipartisan bill, which recently passed the House Homeland Security Committee unanimously, compels DHS to finally develop a comprehensive outcome-based strategy to achieve operational control of the border, defined as stopping 90 percent of illegal border crossers.
How do we know we’re stopping 90 percent? The mandated strategy incorporates the use of advanced Department of Defense sensor technology, much of which currently sits in warehouses overseas, to achieve visibility of our entire border – so we can finally see what we’re missing. These tools, which the taxpayers have already paid for, have proven effective at tracking border-crossers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Once deployed as part of a comprehensive strategy, they will provide the situational awareness to really measure progress, and to stop plugging holes only to see the problem shift as it has from Tucson into Texas.
In addition to having to present the department’s national strategy to the Congress, the bill requires the strategy’s implementation, metrics and results to be verified by nonpartisan, outside experts, as opposed to the administration, on a tight but achievable timeline.
Finally, the bill is endorsed by both law enforcement and industry including the National Sheriffs Association, Major County Sheriffs Association and the Security Industry Association.
In an age of little consensus in Washington, this bill has brought Republicans and Democrats together. Unless we require a nationwide plan and results first, we will inevitably spend countless taxpayer dollars only to repeat this debate a decade from now. As we approach border security and immigration yet again, the Border Security Results Act demands progress instead of accepting the status quo.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security