The Border Is More Secure Today Than Ever Before -- Now What?

In response to repeated calls for “securing the border,” the Center for American Progress sponsored a panel discussion and released a new report, Brick by Brick: A Half-Decade of Immigration Enforcement and the Need for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. The panelists made it clear that “securing the border first” is an empty demand because the border is more secure than ever, immigration enforcement has increased dramatically, and what’s needed now to further secure the border is comprehensive immigration reform. It is also clear that restrictionists and others on the “enforcement first” bandwagon have not been paying attention.

The paper’s author, Former DHS Assistant Secretary for Border and Transportation Security Policy Stewart Verdery and panelist DHS Principal Deputy General Counsel David Martin pointed out that the federal government has spent billions of dollars on border and interior enforcement over the last several years, and that “the enforcement capabilities and resources now available to law enforcement are considerably stronger than during the intense debates of the last decade.”

The failed 2007 comprehensive immigration reform bill included enforcement “benchmarks” that DHS would have to reach before other elements of the bill could be enacted. These benchmarks included:

  • Establishing operational control of the Mexican border
  • Expanding Border Patrol staffing
  • Constructing strong physical and electronic border barriers
  • Implementing a “catch and return” policy
  • Deploying workplace enforcement tools

Verdery and the other panelists systematically listed all of the enforcement enhancements that have been put in place since then and demonstrated that all of these benchmarks have been met.

  • The Secretary of DHS has established and demonstrated operational control; CBP’s budget and personnel has increased; apprehensions along the border have decreased.
  • The Border Patrol has 20,000 full-time agents.
  • At least 300 miles of vehicle barriers, 370 miles of fencing, and 105 ground-based radar and camera towers have been installed, and four unmanned aerial vehicles are in operation.
  • DHS is detaining all removable immigrants apprehended at the border, except in certain humanitarian circumstances.
  • The E-Verify system has grown exponentially, and employer audits have led to 2,069 audits targeting employers for hiring unauthorized workers.

Verdery also pointed to US-VISIT, the 287(g) conference, the Visa Security Program, the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and other enforcement initiatives that have expanded DHS’s immigration enforcement efforts and resources in the years since CIR failed.

The panelists concluded that it is imperative that we move forward with CIR; there are no more excuses. Panelist Ted Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations stated that “reform is being held hostage to an idea of border security that isn’t defined.” Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has said that those opposed to CIR keep “moving the goalposts.” David Martin stated, “It is artificial to separate out border security and make it a condition for reform.”

Once again, those who call for “enforcement first” have been put on the spot. Will any amount of enforcement ever be enough to move them to the next step? Will they continue to move the goalposts? Or will they finally recognize that comprehensive immigration reform is ultimately about securing our borders?


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