Monday, February 25, 2013

Senate immigration draft rejected by Arizona Republicans

February 19, 2013
by Ginger Gibson

All four Republican Arizona House members penned a letter Tuesday voicing opposition to the bipartisan immigration proposal rolled out in the Senate by the Gang of Eight, a group led in part by Arizona Sen. John McCain.

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) obtained by POLITICO, the four House members argue that border security must be at the forefront of any immigration debate. Only after the border has been secured should Congress take up immigration reform.

“As the House begins to debate possible immigration reform proposals, it is vitally important to those of us who represent Border States that the first priority of any reform is securing our Southwest border,” the four congressmen write.

Reps. Matt Salmon, Trent Franks, Paul Gosar and David Schweikert point to the escalating drug cartel violence along the U.S.-Mexico border and the ability for people from “countries unfriendly to the U.S.” to enter the country through the Southern border.

“Only after first securing our borders can we begin to contemplate discussions of additional immigration reform,” the quartet writes.

The bipartisan Senate plan being would create a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. But as a compromise, the path is contingent on the border being secured first, a requirement that has stirred opposition from some Republicans who worry that the determination will be made prematurely by the Obama administration.

The Senators have yet to introduce any legislation, but the principles that were outlined by those supporting the deal would allow Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to determine when the border is secured.

The four Arizona House Republicans argued that the determination must be based on data and “independent third-party evaluations rather than bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. with political motives.”

“If we do not follow this protocol, we will replay the failed immigration reforms of 1986 when we lost the trust of those in our communities to take on the difficult task of securing our borders,” the group writes. “We cannot allow this to happen again.”

The Senate sponsors had hoped to see a bill pass through their chamber in the spring or early summer, which would send the measure over to the less-receptive Republican-controlled House. In an effort to encourage bipartisan support, President Barack Obama has warned that he will begin pushing his own measure if an agreement is not struck by both chambers.

Draft legislation from the White House, which is more liberal than the Gang of Eight proposal, leaked to the public over the weekend.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Urging immigration reform: El Paso leaders plan lobbying trip to Washington

El Paso Times
February 20, 2013
by Diana Washington Valdez

El Paso community leaders on Wednesday announced a united campaign to lobby U.S. lawmakers for immigration reform that is not conditioned on further increases in border security.

"This year will be the year for immigration reform, some thing we have worked on for the past 15 years," said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. "Something is going to happen, but we don't know what details will be in the reform legislation. It will bring immigrants -- we call them 'undocumented Americans' -- out of the shadows.

"The idea that more enforcement is needed before immigration reform can take place is of great concern to us," Garcia said. "Enough has been done already. El Paso, a border city, is the safest city in the United States. We have 650 miles of border fencing, 22,000 Border Patrol agents, and we spent $18 billion on enforcement last year alone. What is not being enforced are the civil and human rights of immigrants. They helped to build this nation and deserve better than this."

Besides Garcia, other leaders who spoke about immigration reform at a news conference Wednesday at the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce included U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, city Rep. Susie Byrd, County Judge Veronica Escobar, Chamber of Commerce Chairwoman Kathleen Walker and the Rev. Arturo Banuelas.

O'Rourke said that El Paso has been at the end of bad public policy in the past, and that it's time for the El Paso border community to make its voice heard in Washington.

"No one has yet defined what 'border security' is," O'Rourke said. "Immigrant communities create the conditions for thriving economies. My job in Congress will be to tell my colleagues in other states that immigration reform is going to be a boon for their communities. I am encouraged by the bipartisan group in the Senate that is working on immigration legislation, but making security a condition is a nonstarter."

O'Rourke said he would like to see more resources used to improve the flow of trade at border ports of entry, which also helps to improve commerce.

The political rhetoric continues to heat up as the White House and Congress throw out different proposals for immigration reform that will affect millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Creating legislation that includes a path to citizenship has been one of the major points that legislators can't seem to agree on.

According to the Center for Migrant Studies in New York, the United States has 11.7 million undocumented immigrants. A quick calculation shows that this is about 3.7 percent of the entire U.S. population of 312.8 million.

The center, which uses the term "unauthorized immigrants," estimates that Texas has 1.6 million undocumented immigrants. That means that undocumented immigrants make up around 6.1 percent of the Lone Star State's entire population of 26 million.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a ranking member on the Senate's Subcommittee On Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, has come out in favor of immigration reform and greater border security.

"Our nation's immigration and border security system is badly broken. It leaves our borders unprotected, threatens our national security and makes a mockery of the rule of law," Cornyn states on his website. "The system has suffered from years of neglect, and in a post-9/11 world, we cannot tolerate this situation any longer. National security demands a comprehensive solution to our immigration system -- and that means both stronger enforcement and reasonable reform of our immigration laws. We must solve this problem -- and solve it now."

Escobar said a delegation of elected officials and advocates plan to travel to Washington, D.C., on Feb. 27, to hold a news conference and speak to lawmakers.

She said it's important for El Paso to take a lead role in the debate on immigration reform.

"We are not calling for open borders," Escobar said. "We are calling for rational measures for these reforms."

Escobar invited the public to follow the delegation's efforts as it works to push for comprehensive immigration legislation over the next few months.

Walker, who is also a lawyer specializing in immigration law, said that when it comes to enforcement, "Business understands that we need to protect civil and human rights, and praised the contributions of immigrant entrepreneurs and investors.

"We have met the benchmarks for border security É but unless you define what border security is, we can't get there," she said.

The Border Network for Human Rights said research shows that apprehension rates at the U.S.-Mexico border are at 40-year lows and that net migration from Mexico is zero.

Banuelas, a Catholic clergyman and human rights advocate, said: "We will keep fighting for the most vulnerable people of our society. We need to tell the truth about immigrants, about their contributions, and not let fear of others give way to some form of backdoor racism.

"We should not continue to criminalize immigrants who come here to work to feed their families," Banuelas said.

Banuelas also said the U.S. should re-examine its trade policies that create massive displacements in other countries and force migrants to leave their native countries in search of employment.

El Paso's city and county governments have adopted resolutions in support of comprehensive immigration reform.

Copyright 2012 El Paso Times. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Progressives pressure Obama on immigration reform triggers

February 6, 2013
by Ali Weinberg

President Barack Obama’s allies in organized labor and progressive groups are drawing a line in the sand when it comes to so-called “triggers” that would require a secure border as a precondition to allowing undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

Left-leaning groups told the president during a meeting this week that any preconditions on creating a pathway to citizenship would be a deal-breaker in terms of winning their support.

“That is not the starting point,” said Marielena Hincapie of the National Immigration Law Center when asked about part of the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform proposal that would make prospects for full citizenship contingent on increased border security. “What we are demanding is a road to citizenship that's clear, that's direct, not contingent at all on additional enforcement.”

The concept is one of the “basic legislative pillars” of a bipartisan Senate proposal on comprehensive immigration reform. While vague, the language is geared towards conservative lawmakers who want tough enforcement mechanisms in place before a path to citizenship can be formed.

The second of the Senate’s four pillars reads: “Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required.”

The trigger has been an essential component for conservatives like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the four Republican senators to help craft the plan.

“I will not be supporting any law that does not ensure that the enforcement things happen," he told conservative blogger Ed Morrisey in late January.

But progressive groups have been ratcheting up the pressure on the president, whom they assert agrees about the concept of a trigger.

“There is clear alignment between us and the president and we look forward to expressing that power as the debate carries forward,” said Marshall Fitz of the Center for American Progress, adding, “We're going to focus like a laser beam on the path to citizenship.”

While White House press secretary Jay Carney seemed to split the difference between the two approaches, saying the president remained committed to both border security and a path to citizenship, but not going so far as to link the two.

“He remains, as part of the comprehensive immigration reform process, committed to increasing our border security further,” Carney said. “But when we talk about comprehensive immigration reform, we're talking about a whole package that moves as a whole, and that includes a clear path to citizenship for people who are affected here,” Carney said.

Cornell University Law School professor Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration law expert, said one possible compromise between the two sides would be an enforcement mechanism based on objective criteria, like a certain number of Border Patrol agents along the border or amount of money spent on security.

But he said that if Republicans insist on a subjective measure, such as whether a poll finds the majority of Americans think the border is secure, or whether Republican governors of border states agree the border is secure, common ground will be much more difficult to find.

Asked about the political feasibility of objective measures in a final immigration bill, Yale-Loehr said, “I would hope than an objective one would satisfy the conservatives enough that they could live with it while not antagonizing the other side too much.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano: El Paso, border secure

The El Paso Times
February 6, 2013
by Daniel Borunda

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano pointed to El Paso as an example of an increasingly secure border during a visit Tuesday to highlight improvements in border security.

Napolitano was in El Paso on a tour promoting a secure border, which some Republicans in Congress say is necessary before any proposal to overhaul immigration laws.

Napolitano's visit coincided with El Paso again being ranked the "safest big city" in annual rankings by CQ Press, a research publishing firm.

"Whenever people tell me that the border is unsafe, I say, 'What about El Paso?', " Napolitano said at a news conference in the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine hangar.

Napolitano took a helicopter tour of the border east of El Paso, met with Mayor John Cook and law enforcement leaders, and visited Border Patrol agents in Clint.

"We had a really good round-table discussion with Secretary Napolitano and emphasized the fact that, in our opinion, the border is already secure," Cook said afterward. "I can only speak for the El Paso sector. We feel the El Paso sector is secure at this time."

Cook said that the need in El Paso is more staffing and technology at the border crossings to shorten the waits that hinder international travel and commerce.

Monday, Napolitano was in San Diego as part of a tour promoting a secure border
San Diego was ranked by CQ Press as second only to El Paso as the city (over 500,000 population) with the lowest crime rate.

"It's imperative we modernize the immigration system," Napolitano said. "Now, there's been some insistence that an overhaul of our immigration laws must wait until the border is secure.

"That argument not only ignores the unprecedented gains we've made in border security, it suffers from a fundamental flaw," Napolitano said. "The fundamental flaw is that it somehow says that border security is unrelated with what we do with interior enforcement."

She was asked about concerns from ranchers in rural areas, away from cities such as El Paso, who have complained about illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

Napolitano, a former governor and attorney general of Arizona, said that in the past four years security has been toughened all along the U.S.-Mexico border, including sparsely populated areas.

"We have more Border Patrol agents, boots on the ground than ever before," Napolitano said. "Number two, we are using more technology as a force multiplier than ever before -- different types of sensors, multiple vehicle radar systems, forward-operating bases. These are bases located right on the border."

Napolitano said that air cover on the border is at its greatest ever, including the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, which allow agents to see things on the ground from a high altitude.

President Barack Obama's proposed immigration law overhaul does not include the secure-border provision favored by some Republican senators.

U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso, said the "border has never been more secure."

O'Rourke pointed to a record number of criminal deportations and record-low levels of immigrant arrests plus 22,000 Border Patrol agents and $18 billion spent annually on border security.

"I agree with the secretary (Napolitano) and President Obama that we cannot allow comprehensive immigration reform to be derailed by those that refuse to see the reality of the border," O'Rourke said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, a Demo crat who represents far east El Paso County and a large stretch of West Texas, also said that El Paso County was safe.

"I have full faith that the men and women tasked with protecting us are keeping us safe, but more resources would be helpful in modernizing facilities in Eagle Pass, Presidio and Sierra Blanca," Gallego said in a statement.

Other political leaders claimed that the border was not secure regardless of what Napolitano said.

"I hope Secretary Napolitano returns to Washington and relays to the president and Senate Democrats what Texans already know: Our border is not secure and the federal government has a long way to go," Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said in a statement before Napolitano's visit to El Paso.

State Sen. Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, said, "Those who assert the border is a threat to the nation will never accept the facts. El Paso's low crime rate is no anomaly. It's been this way for years.

"Federal agencies are doing their job in securing the border," Rodrí guez said in a statement. "What we need is reform and oversight of the billions in funding and unprecedented buildup of personnel in our communities. We also need to build upon the billions of dollars in trade with Mexico, and put resources into expanding and staffing ports of entry."

Napolitano said a secure border does not mean that there will never be any illegal crossings or crimes committed along the border. She said enforcement on the border is only one part of border security.

"It's enforcement at the border and the interior of the country," she said. "And streamlining the visa process and dealing with those in the country illegally but that have committed no crime beyond that. And recognizing the critical role that trade between Mexico and the U.S has for jobs, particularly on border states like Texas."

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

El Paso Again Tops List of Safest U.S. Cities

Texas Tribune
February 5, 2013
by Julian Aguilar

For the third straight year, the city of El Paso was ranked as the safest of its size in the country, a statistic certain to be cited often as the debate on immigration reform continues.

Congressional Quarterly ranks the border town as the safest of cities with a population greater than 500,000. Austin landed in the fourth spot, with San Antonio ranking 10th.

The report came out Tuesday, the same day that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano visited El Paso and San Diego. The California border town ranked as the second-safest city in the category.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, said Tuesday that the statistic is proof that Texas’ border with Mexico is safe, despite comments to the contrary by some Republicans.

“The fact is, the border has never been more secure — whether measured in the $18 billion spent annually on border security, the 22,000 boots on the ground, the record number of criminal deportations in the past four years, or the record-low immigrant apprehensions this past year,” he said in a statement. “I agree with the Secretary and President Obama that we cannot allow comprehensive immigration reform to be derailed by those that refuse to see the reality of the border.”

O’Rourke’s comments came the day after U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, argued otherwise.

“Given that Washington Democrats like Senator [Harry] Reid have a hard time understanding what ‘operational control’ of the border means, I’m encouraged to see Sec. Napolitano visit the Texas border,” he said in a statement. “I hope Sec. Napolitano returns to Washington and relays to the President and Senate Democrats what Texans already know: our border is not secure and the federal government has a long way to go.”

U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-San Antonio, whose district includes a portion of far east El Paso County, echoed O’Rourke in his praise for what has been done on the border.

“With the right resources, the men and women at our borders have made counties like El Paso among the safest in the country,” he said in a statement. “After wrapping up a district tour in which I visited leaders of the CBP and Border Patrol, I have full faith that the men and women tasked with protecting us are keeping us safe, but more resources would be helpful in modernizing facilities in Eagle Pass, Presidio and Sierra Blanca.”

The volleying between both parties is likely to increase as lawmakers wrangle over how to best fix the country’s immigration system. Republicans have said the dialogue cannot be had until the border is secure, while some Democrats argue that conservatives will always find a glitch in statistics in order to stall immigration legislation.

The ranking is compiled using statistics from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. Some have questioned the rankings, however, because certain crimes, like extortion, are not reported.

The FBI’s website also cautions against making sweeping assessments based solely on the data.
“Individuals using these tabulations are cautioned against drawing conclusions by making direct comparisons between cities,” the site says. “Comparisons lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents. Valid assessments are possible only with careful study and analysis of the range of unique conditions affecting each local law enforcement jurisdiction.”

Senate Plan would give Napolitano final say on Border Security

The Hill
February 2, 2013
by Alexander Bolton

Under a bipartisan Senate framework, Democrats say, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano would have final say over whether the border is secure enough to put 11 million illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.

If Napolitano does not provide the green light for putting illegal immigrants on a pathway to citizenship, the responsibility for judging whether the metrics for border security have been met will be given to her successor.

The early debate over immigration reform has yielded two thorny questions: What metrics will be used to determine whether the goals for border security and other safeguards against illegal immigration have been met? Who will decide whether the metrics have been achieved?

Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the lead Democratic sponsor of the bipartisan immigration reform framework unveiled this past week, said Napolitano should decide.

“What we’ve proposed is that the DHS secretary, whomever it is, will have final say on [whether] whatever metrics we proposes are met,” Schumer said. “We think those metrics will be quite objective.”

Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the lead Republican sponsor of the framework, said the issue is under discussion within the Gang of Eight.

“We’re working on a lot of it,” he said.

But the idea of letting Napolitano, who plans to stay in the cabinet for President Obama’s second term, or a future secretary of Homeland Security make the final call on the border has sparked alarm among other Republicans.

“My constituents are not going to accept a Washington bureaucrat making a representation the border is secure when they know it’s not true. So that’s unacceptable,” said Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn, who represents Texas.

There are other tough issues that could derail immigration reform negotiations. These include the establishment of an entry-exit visa system to track whether persons who enter the country leave when they are supposed to. An estimated 40 percent of illegal immigrants have overstayed their visas.

Another is the question of how to handle the future flow of workers for so-called low-skill jobs in meat processing, hospitality and other service industries. Some lawmakers say disagreements over a guest worker program blew up a comprehensive reform bill in the Senate in 2007.

The proposal to make border security a condition for allowing illegal immigrants onto a pathway to citizenship has emerged as the biggest disagreement in the early debate. Obama pointedly did not call for it during a speech in Las Vegas, Tuesday.

The Senate framework would create a commission made up of governors, attorneys general and community leaders from Southwestern border states to recommend when border security goals have been met.
They could not render the final judgment, however, because lawmakers fear that would violate the Constitution.

McCain says the commission nevertheless will have a significant influence.

“The Constitution requires that action taken by the Congress is not dictated by a commission. We will be guided to a large degree by their conclusions and recommendations,” he said.

The bipartisan Senate group envisions metrics for border security that can be objectively verified, such as target numbers for border patrol agents and unmanned aerial surveillance vehicles.

“They will be objective so there’s not that much leeway,” Schumer said. “What we envision is that because they [are] objective, the advisory committee and DHS will in all likelihood agree.”

Members of the Gang of Eight would like to put in place a sequential process.

The commission of Southwestern officials would submit evaluations of border security that Napolitano or another DHS secretary would then approve. Democrats say Napolitano would not have unilateral power to put 11 million immigrants on a pathway to citizenship.

Advocates for a fast path to citizenship say Napolitano or someone else in the Obama administration would be a preferable choice to make the call.

“Having the DHS secretary decide rather than (Arizona Gov.) Jan Brewer decide is obviously a no-brainer,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice.

Sharry said “having clear metrics be the goalpost rather than the moving goalpost that Republicans have been engaged in the last five years is much better.”

“But any condition that leaves room for mischief is a potential problem,” he added.

Democrats and advocates for a relatively fast pathway to citizenship worry border security could become an excuse for delay.

Sharry and his allies say it should not be conditioned on further enforcement “when the border is already secure.”

He points to a dramatic increase to more than 21,000 border guards in the last several years and a large decrease in net levels of illegal immigration from Mexico, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for NumbersUSA, which supports reduced immigration levels, said even with the trigger endorsed by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), a member of the Gang of Eight, the Senate framework would grant immediate amnesty to 11 million illegal immigrants.

“On Day One, illegal aliens step forward and get their probationary status and essentially get on the path. They start the path right there, Day One,” she said. “So the triggers are pretty much useless anyway.”

Jenks also argued the plank of the Senate framework requiring the completion of an entry-exit system to track whether visitors leave the country on schedule includes a big loophole. She said the entry-exit system would be ineffective because it would track only people entering and leaving the United States via airports and seaports.

“Do we really believe that agricultural workers are going to be flying into the country through airports or cruising in to seaports?” she said. “You just totally exempted them from the entry-exit system. You exempted everyone who comes across the Southern border and the Northern border.”

Friday, February 1, 2013

How will we know border is 'secure'?

Arizona Republic
February 1, 2013
by Bob Ortega and Rebekah Sanders

As Congress moves to tackle meaningful immigration reform this year, one of the obstacles may be determining when the border between the U.S. and Mexico can be declared secure.

For years, even as border enforcement increased dramatically, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and other critics charged that the federal government doesn't do enough to prevent illegal immigrants and drugs from crossing the border and that the border must be secure before there can be any action on immigration reform.

But a secure border is in the eye of the beholder.

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There isn't a specific point at which one can declare the border is secure, said Jessica Zuckerman, Homeland Security research associate at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
"It's a fictitious point," she said. "We can always do more. What we need to do is make the best decisions about what we should do."

A bipartisan proposal put forward Monday by eight senators, including Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, aims to shift the discussion by moving on immigration reform and border security at the same time.

The plan would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for legal permanent status and eventually earn citizenship.

But the path to citizenship would stay on hold until the Department of Homeland Security, advised by a commission of border governors, state attorneys general and other border-community leaders, agreed that the border was secure.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama unveiled his own immigration-reform proposal. He didn't peg reform to better border security but called for more spending on surveillance and other technology along the border. He also proposed upgrading infrastructure at various ports of entry.

Defining a secure border is as much a matter of politics as numbers, said Doris Meissner, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute and former commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service under President Bill Clinton.

"Border enforcement has been a conversation stopper for at least six years," she said. "So, it is high time, given the incredible investment we've made, to get past the simplistic statement that our borders are out of control and talk in an informed way about how you assess the billions that Congress has invested in border security."

In 1986, as part of a law that offered amnesty to undocumented migrants, Congress began increasing funding for border security, a move that gained momentum after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Since 1986, the government has spent more than $219 billion, adjusted for inflation, on the border and immigration enforcement. Last fiscal year alone, two agencies, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, spent more than $17.9 billion.

In the past seven years, the number of Border Patrol agents has doubled to more than 21,000. The fence along the southwestern border has grown to more than 641 miles from 135 miles in 2005.
Apprehensions of undocumented migrants, since peaking at 1.7 million in 2000, dropped to 340,252 in fiscal 2011, the last year for which figures are available.

The Border Patrol says enhanced security has made it more difficult and dangerous to cross illegally, discouraging such attempts; analysts say the economic downturn played a major role.
The rapid increase in Border Patrol staffing has been problematic.

According to an internal Homeland Security report obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, lower standards and reduced screening of candidates has left the Border Patrol vulnerable to corruption.

In the past eight years, 147 agents and officers have been convicted of or charged with corruption-related offenses such as accepting bribes to let drugs in and stealing government money.

In one recent example, two months ago in Yuma, officials say an agent hired in 2010 was arrested while loading 150 pounds of marijuana into his patrol vehicle while he was on duty.

Then, too, the Border Patrol hasn't developed good ways of measuring how effectively it uses its agents and other resources, according to a Government Accountability Office study released last month.

The GAO said the Border Patrol also hasn't set clear goals or timelines for improving.

On Monday night, more than 100 southern Arizona residents packed a town hall in Douglas, a few blocks from the reddish metal border fence and a busy port of entry, to talk with U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., about border security and the GAO report.

Barber said the Border Patrol needs to do better.

"If you (get) hundreds of new agents and you have lots of new technologies, lots of mobile surveillance systems, and you have a lot of sensors, and you have drones, all of these new assets, and we still have a very high level of illegal traffic, both people and drugs, there's something missing," the congressman said. "What I think is missing is what this study revealed -- that the Border Patrol does not yet have good goals that can be measured and good decision-making about where to deploy these assets."

At the meeting, ranchers complained about agents being stationed 25 miles or more north of the border, sometimes facing north, allowing smugglers to cross through ranchlands that sprawl east of Douglas. Ranchers said they feared dangerous encounters with smugglers as well as lost cattle when smugglers cut their fences to pass through.

Asked if the answer is to hire more Border Patrol agents, one rancher said, "Hell no. We have too much damn Border Patrol. We don't need more."

Instead, the ranchers repeatedly called for agents to patrol closer to the border.

"We feel our pleas for help have been neglected," said Sue Krentz, widow of Robert Krentz, who was killed on their ranch in 2010, reigniting the border-security debate across the country. "I believe the Border Patrol is doing their honest best. But it's like in your home: You don't let people walk through your living room."

Acting Chief Patrol Agent Manuel Padilla Jr., the Border Patrol's top agent in the area, said the agency understands the concerns and is developing a strategy to address them.

"If you go back to 2004 in Douglas, we saw huge groups of people and narcotics driving through the streets. It was a chaotic border environment. ... That is no more," Padilla said. "However, we do have a lot of work to do because that traffic has now moved into the more difficult terrain for us to detect and respond to that traffic."

In a phone interview Wednesday, Meissner said Homeland Security has been developing better performance yardsticks for the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection, centering on using surveillance and other data to show not just how many people they are apprehending, but how that compares with the ones who get away.

Homeland Security is completing an index of data on border trends, based on comments by outside reviewers, spokesman Peter Boogaard said in a written statement.

Meissner said Homeland Security needs to try harder to make that information public. She said she supports the proposed commission.

By involving governors and others in border states whose views may differ from the rest of the country, it offers an opportunity to discuss appropriate levels of security.

But not everyone is convinced that defining how secure the border is will hold up immigration reform.

"What they're proposing is a fig leaf," said Steven Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for robust enforcement of immigration laws. By giving undocumented immigrants provisional legal status immediately, "any talk of the amnesty being contingent on enforcement is made meaningless on the first day," he said.

Zuckerman, at the Heritage Institute, which opposes linking immigration reform to border security, said, "Both proposals were just laying out principles. Until we see legislation, we're not going to know what some of this means."

Key question in immigration debate: Is U.S. border secure?

Washington Post
January 30, 2013
by David Nakamura

The debate over a national immigration overhaul has quickly begun to focus on a key question: Are the U.S. borders secure enough?

Leading Republicans say much more needs to be done to control the illegal flow of migrants from Mexico, and they have vowed not to authorize a path to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented residents until stricter enforcement provisions are in place.

But the Obama administration contends that it has invested more heavily in enforcement efforts than ever before. Several high-profile studies have found that the federal response has helped reduce the flow of illegal immigrants, bringing net migration between the United States and Mexico to a virtual standstill.

Last year, the government spent $18 billion on immigration control, 24 percent more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined, according to a study released this month by the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. The Obama administration deported nearly 410,000 people in 2012 — a record, and 25 percent more than in 2007.

At the same time, the number of people apprehended at the Mexican border trying to enter the United States dropped to 340,000, a 40-year low, in 2011. Immigration advocates say the decline shows that the heavy investment in border agents and surveillance technology has effectively deterred foreign nationals from attempting to cross.

Obama administration officials also say the government has largely met, and in some cases surpassed, enforcement benchmarks set in 2007, when a comprehensive immigration reform bill failed in the Senate in part because of concerns about border control.

“I certainly feel very comfortable saying that never before has the border been as protected as it is now,” said Nestor Rodriguez, a sociology professor at the University of Texas who has studied immigration from Mexico and Central America. “The large undocumented population is partly a result of that success: People are afraid to go back home because it’s hard to get back in.”

That progress, advocates say, largely renders moot the demand from leading Republicans, including Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), that a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants be contingent on stricter border-control measures that remain largely undefined.

“Incredible resources have been spent on the interior and border enforcement, and we need to make sure the road to citizenship is not subject to that,” said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. The GOP position “raises the question of whether the border can ever be completely secured and is that road to citizenship even achievable or not?”

The issue is quickly emerging as a key obstacle in the latest round of immigration reform negotiations. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh pressed Rubio on Tuesday to vow he would not support a path to citizenship without tying it to stricter border control.

“If there is not language in this bill that guarantees that nothing else will happen unless these enforcement mechanisms are in place, I won’t support it,” Rubio responded.

Obama has also emphasized that he supports increased enforcement at the border as a key element of any immigration plan. But he did not endorse a proposal this week from Rubio and seven other senators that would establish a border commission to monitor security and make recommendations that would be used as a “trigger” to allow undocumented migrants to pursue citizenship.

Administration officials and advocates fear such a mechanism could create long delays and create a class of legal residents without full benefits.

With border apprehensions plummeting in recent years, most experts agree that the number of migrants attempting to enter the United States illegally has probably dropped sharply. They attribute the trend to several factors, including reduced labor demand in the United States as the result of a sluggish economy.

Still, the experts agree that federal enforcement is also a likely reason for the reduced flow. Increased federal funding has paid for more than 21,000 federal agents at the border with Mexico, 651 miles of fencing, 300 camera towers and nine surveillance drones to monitor remote areas.

Last April, the Pew Hispanic Center found that the net migration between the United States and Mexico had fallen to zero, reversing four decades of “the largest wave of immigration in history from a single country to the United States.”

Marc Rosenblum, an immigration policy specialist for the Congressional Research Service, wrote in a report last year that Congress “may consider the possibility that certain additional investments at the border may be met with diminishing returns.”

Republicans argue that as the U.S. economy improves, the flow of undocumented workers is likely to pick up again. And they cite a report last month from the Government Accountability Office that determined that the U.S. Border Patrol was intercepting just 61 percent of migrants who attempted to cross illegally into the country from Mexico.

That study found that the agency was unable to apprehend nearly 209,000 migrants at the border, of which about 86,000 successfully escaped into the United States. Both numbers, however, were down significantly from 2006.

“There has been some progress,” said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Tex.). “But the bottom line is that we are far from having operational control of our borders.”

Rubio and other GOP leaders also include improved workplace verification of immigration status as part of the broad conversation over enforcement. Democrats, including Obama, agree that new safeguards must be established to help employers identify undocumented workers.

Some conservatives view worker identification as a more vital issue. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which promotes stricter immigration control, said the border commission proposed by the Senate working group is “a gimmick” that has little value but is designed to appeal to conservatives who would otherwise reject comprehensive reform efforts.

“It’s easier to talk about fences and border-control agents than it is to deal with the more difficult issues of work-site enforcement,” Krikorian said.

The National Association of Retired Border Patrol Officials has opposed allowing illegal immigrants to become legal residents, saying it rewards lawbreakers. But many retired agents agree that the number of illegal migrants has fallen dramatically.

“We have never seen the level of control we have now,” said David B. Ham, a retired Border Patrol officer and president of the National Border Patrol Museum in El Paso. “The numbers are way down — there’s no doubt.”