It's Time to Get Serious about Border Security

Aug 20, 2013 Issues: Border Security

Americans know better than the Obama administration; they have heard the claims that the border is secure, but they know we're not anywhere near that goal. For Texans, this border insecurity isn't just close, it's personal.

For years, Congress has looked at border security backward. Resources have dictated the strategy instead of a strategy dictating what resources are provided. In place of a national plan, we have patched up individual holes - causing illegal immigration to shift to less fortified sectors instead of stopping it altogether.

The fence in the San Diego sector has pushed illegal immigrants off the California coast through our maritime borders, and advanced technology and increased enforcement in the Tucson sector has caused apprehensions to skyrocket in the Rio Grande Valley. Today, even the most fortified sectors are full of gaping holes. Radar technology in Arizona recently revealed that we are catching only 49 percent of illegal border crossers in certain sectors.

This ad hoc approach also has led to wasting countless taxpayer dollars. In the past 10 years, we've spent more than $75 billion on the border without making a lasting difference. In fact, the last time the General Accountability Office checked, we had operational control of only 44 percent. That's a bad return on our investment. We must stop plugging holes, and instead secure the entire border in a fiscally responsible way.

Focusing on national strategy

The Border Security Results Act finally addresses border security correctly by compelling the Department of Homeland Security to create a national strategy to gain operational control. The national strategy must be presented to the Congress - using technology, fencing and manpower, and with input from local communities, ranchers and landowners as well as experts including the Coast Guard, National Guard, Border Patrol, border sheriffs and border governors.

We know this strategy will require new resources. However, by seeing the plan first, we will know what resources are necessary so that they'll be used effectively. If Congress sees capability gaps in the plan, we will demand changes. Failure to secure the border in the past has demonstrated the need for both great interior enforcement and increased congressional oversight.

HR 1417 will deliver results in a tight but achievable timeline. The bill demands operational control - defined as apprehending at least 90 percent of illegal border crossers - in high-traffic areas on the border in two years and nine months, and the entire Southwest border in five years. It ensures that Homeland Security meets these requirements by mandating verification by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, so the Obama administration can't continue to grade its own work.

New measurements

How do we know we're getting 90 percent? Instead of relying on the same inaccurate gauges currently used by the administration, this bill demands new measurements, developed by an independent National Lab with expertise in evaluating border security in consultation with border governors and experts on the ground. Additionally, the bill compels the use of taxpayer-owned visibility assets no longer being used in Iraq and Afghanistan so we can finally see what we're missing.

The Border Security Results Act only addresses border security; it does not address immigration reform. The reason is simple: We cannot repeat 1986, where legalization happened but the border security enforcement measures were never fulfilled.

The Senate got it all wrong. It continued the misguided approach we have taken for years by throwing $46 billion at the border in order to fast-track immigration reform with no requirements for improved security or enforcement.

Anyone who ultimately wants to secure our porous borders, and finally see results and real accountability, should support this bill. The folks who know the border better than anyone - the Southwest border sheriffs - support this bill because they know it will finally tackle border security the right way and get results.

Our border insecurity is decades in the making, and time has shown that without a national strategy, we will never see lasting progress. It's time for real results we can measure; it's time for accountability for the Administration; it's time to do this the smart way.

Michael McCaul, a Republican representing Texas' 10th Congressional District, is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security. Ted Poe, a Republican representing Texas' 2nd Congressional District, is chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non-proliferation and Trade and vice chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee.