Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Rusted Gate In The Border Fence Opens For The First Time

April 29, 2013
By Adrian Florido

— In 2008, the U.S. Border Patrol in San Diego replaced a flimsy fence with a tall, thick one at Friendship Park, a spot where families separated by the border have long come to talk through the fence. They built a gate into it to allow for maintenance on both sides. But it had never been opened, so it rusted shut.

Jim Brown, an architect, negotiated to get Border Patrol to open the gate for the first time ever this Sunday, just for a few minutes. They agreed.

“I came out with some WD-40," he said. "It was kind of comical — a little tiny can from a convenience store, spraying it on the hinges. No, it would not budge. So Border Patrol came out with some torches and what not, and popped it open.”

It just so happened that Sunday, Luis Angulo had come to meet his 5-year-old daughter for the first time — through the fence. She was born in Mexico. He lives in San Diego.

“My sister, she’s a lawyer in Mexico and she told me 'hey, you can try to see your daughter from here,'" he said, as the little girl stuck her fingers through the fence's tight mesh.

Bronwyn Ingram, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner’s fiancée, was standing nearby. She was there to help swing the gate open, and she said stories like Angulo's show that the ties that bind border cities are stronger than the fence that separates them.

“When you come here and you spend time, and you see the families talking together, putting their fingers through the fence to touch each other, it’s really moving," she said.

As crowds gathered on both sides of the fence, Ingram and Filner moved toward the gate. Brown removed a large steel beam lock and swung the gate open. The faces of people on the other side, usually obscured by the fence’s tight mesh, suddenly became clear. Cheers erupted on both sides.
Mayor Filner called Luis Angulo toward the opening. He hesitated, but then his daughter walked through, looking up at him. He picked her up and gave her giant hug.

A few minutes later, two Border Patrol agents secured the gate again. Brown said the Border Patrol had installed a greasing mechanism to keep the gate from rusting shut again. He said he hopes that means opening the gate in a gesture of binational friendship will become a more common occurrence.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Immigration bill might not lengthen border fence

Salt Lake Tribune
April 23, 2013
by Matt Canham

Washington • Immigration reform may not result in much, if any, new border fencing — despite $1.5 billion in designated funds in the Senate proposal, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Tuesday.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, pressed the secretary on the issue, noting the proposal would give her the ability to certify when the border fence is complete. The fence plan is one trigger that would allow many of the 11 million immigrants in the country illegally to gain access to green cards.

"If you determine little or no additional fencing along the border is necessary, when do you think is the soonest that you might certify that that has been completed?" Lee, an opponent of the proposal, asked Napolitano.

"I think we would move very quickly," she responded. "We have not been sitting back waiting for immigration reform to pass to secure the border."

Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, noted a U.S. Border Patrol study determined a fence makes sense on 653 miles of the 2,000-mile southern border and so far some sort of fencing is up on 652 of those miles.
"I think what we would do if the bill passes," she said, "is go back and look at the type of fencing we have and say, ‘Do we want to make it triple what it is or taller?’ — or something of that sort."

In an interview after the hearing, Lee said he didn’t have the technical expertise to question the secretary’s analysis of border fencing, but added he’s worried that the legislation sets a low bar.

"It is not something that necessarily guarantees that the border is adequately fenced in the long run," he said.
Napolitano appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on a third day of immigration-related hearings. She was slated to appear last Friday but delayed her testimony because of the ongoing investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings.

The senators largely praised her and her agency for the work on the attack before jumping into the details of a broad immigration-reform plan that involves border security, employment verification of immigration status, and a process to grant legal status to immigrants here illegally.

Much of the questioning centered on border security and fencing, with Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., expressing pessimism about building a longer fence, arguing that apprehensions of illegal border crossers are down.

"I question whether spending billions more on a fence between the United States and Mexico is really the best use of taxpayer dollars," he said.

Napolitano said she hopes to be granted flexibility to tap $1.5 billion now designated for border fencing on other border-security equipment, such as unmanned aerial vehicles.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, agreed with Napolitano on the point, but questioned how the government could claim to have "effective control of the border" unless it knew how many people slipped through undetected.
She argued that better surveillance technology will make that determination more accurate, but noted no number will determine the level of border security.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and a potential swing vote on immigration reform, has credited President Barack Obama’s administration for doing more to boost border security than any past president and said the immigration proposal could be enough to settle the politically difficult issue, as long as everyone agrees that there is no reasonable way to create an impenetrable border.

Hatch, a Judiciary Committee member who was helping lead another hearing Tuesday, only temporarily attended the immigration discussion and did not ask Napolitano any questions.

The committee is now expected to debate and vote on potential changes to the bill in May. If passes there, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., wants to bring it before the full Senate in June.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Feds attempt to seize land|Motion cites lack of communication

The Brownsville Herald
April 16, 2013
by Mark Reagan

A prolonged fight over .026 acres of land along the Rio Grande is slowly edging forward after U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen ordered the landowner’s lawyers to start talking to the government.

In 2008, the U.S. government sued Eloisa G. Tamez and 14 other landowners — including the Brownsville and Matamoros Bridge Co. — in an effort to take the properties and build sections of the border fence on them, court documents show.
“The public purpose for which said land is taken is to construct, install, operate, and maintain roads, fencing, vehicle barriers, security lighting, and related structures designed to help secure the United States/Mexico border within the State of Texas,” the original suit states.

That litigation was filed July 1, 2008.

Hanen said he called Tuesday’s hearing because he wanted to know the status of the case because “it kind of stalled.”

According to the government, the case stalled because lead California-based lawyer Peter Schey, who represents the landowners, wasn’t responding to routine court matters.

The government filed a motion April 1 to take immediate possession of the property.

“Counsel for the United States of America has exercised due diligence in attempting to reach defendant’s counsel regarding this Motion but all recent attempts to contact Defendant’s counsel have failed,” the document states.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric A. Hudson said Tuesday it’s the government’s view that since it didn’t receive any response in 21 days, all objections by Tamez’s counsel were waived.

But Schey filed an opposed motion Monday.

“The agreed upon Proposed Scheduling Order sets deadlines and trial in this cause well into the future and it is unclear why, and plaintiff has failed to explain why, it requires an immediate Order of possession on the small strip of additional land involved in its present motion,” the document states.

The motion suggests allowing “reasonable time” for the United States to file a memorandum of points and authorities supporting its request for immediate possession, for the defendants to file oppositions, for the government to file any reply briefs and then for a prompt hearing to be held.

However, Hanen said he thought the case has dragged on long enough.

“I’m not going to make the government jump through hoops if y’all aren’t going to respond,” Hanen said, adding that he thought Tamez’s lawyers were acting negligent. “You’ve got to act like responsible counsel of record.”

The judge called it unfair to Tamez and the court for the government to not receive responses from the attorney.

Hanen scheduled an April 30 hearing on the motion for immediate possession and suggested that the landowners consider hiring a third lawyer or removing Schey from the case.

Schey said his clients were working to include a third, local, attorney.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Southwest Border Security: Are We Getting Our Bang for the Buck?

The Arizona Republic
April 8, 2013
by Bob Ortega

AT THE ARIZONA-MEXICO BORDER -- Rancher Jim Chilton wrestles his brush-scarred Ford F-350 pickup truck down the rutted dirt road that leads to the Mexican border. He spots a youth ahead, walking south, stooped with exhaustion. The boy, dusty, his ragged pants tied at the waist with rope, looks back as the truck jounces towards him, but he doesn’t run. “Notice the carpet shoes?” Chilton asks a passenger. Drug smugglers tie on carpet-soled overshoes to disguise their tracks, he observes, as he rolls down his window.

“Do you need water?” Chilton asks the boy in Spanish. “Sí, gracias,” he says. He eagerly guzzles from the two-liter bottle Chilton passes him. The boy says he’s Ivan, 15, and that he ran out of food and water two days earlier.

This encounter between a rancher and a migrant — or, possibly, a smuggler — on a remote stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona’s Altar Valley might seem happenstance. But in an important sense, it is not: The more than $106 billion the United States has spent on securing and militarizing its Southwest border over the last five years has created this situation, bringing them together here on this day, the armed rancher guarding his land, the boy using it as a travel route.

Those billions have built a new iron curtain along more than 650 miles of the border and and more than doubled the number of Border Patrol agents along it to almost 18,500. They have erected scores of surveillance towers and planted thousands of hidden sensors. They have added an armada of drones, aircraft, canine teams, horse patrols, checkpoints and vehicle patrols that range up to 60 miles from the actual border to arrest migrants and catch drug smugglers.

All of this infrastructure — along with a 58 percent drop in the number of migrants arrested by the Border Patrol compared with five years ago — underpins Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s claim that the border is more secure now than it has ever been.

Now, with the U.S.. Senate expected this week to introduce a bill to overhaul immigration laws, skeptics — particularly Arizona Republicans — say any changes must be predicated on making the border still more secure, and on finding a definitive measure for when it is secure enough. But look beyond the pages of statistics on migrant detentions and drug seizures; visit the border to see how the buildup has affected those who live here and those who cross through here, and a less black-and-white picture emerges.

This picture suggests that the costs of securing the border already have been extraordinarily high, not just in dollars, but in lives. It suggests that all of this security has done little to stanch the flow of millions of pounds of drugs north — or of 250,000 guns a year and billions of dollars south. And it suggests, as those who have studied this issue closely maintain, that locking down the entire border would be prohibitively expensive and still fail to halt drug smuggling.

“The border is more secure now than at any time in U.S. history,” said Robert Bonner, a former head both of Customs and Border Protection and of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council’s Southwest Border Task Force. “But it’s not under control in any law-enforcement sense.”

There’s broad agreement that the deep U.S. economic recession has been the biggest factor in driving down migration north over the past five years. The new fences, technology and increased enforcement have made a difference, too. But they have not so much stopped the migrants and drug smugglers as they have redirected them from busy border towns such as San Diego, El Paso and Laredo, to remote desert trails in the wilds of Arizona and south Texas.

So it is with the teenager, Ivan, who says he spent a month freight-hopping and working his way north toward Atlanta from the hardscrabble farming town of Tuxpan, in the central Mexican state of Michoacan. Five years ago, his older brother crossed easily into Texas from Nuevo Laredo. But Ivan couldn’t take that path — too many walls and agents; he says he was told the only way to avoid La Migra, the Border Patrol, was to hike through the desert.

Many migrants and human-rights activists on the border say that the drug cartels now control the crossing routes; guides and migrants must pay a tribute. For migrants, “if they don’t have money, they have to carry drugs,” said Hilda Loureiro, who with her husband runs the San Juan Bosco shelter for migrants in Nogales, Sonora. For young men, that usually means backpacking a bale of marijuana.

Ivan, between gulps of water, denies involvement with drug -smuggling, saying he’d come north to find work so he could send money back to his family. Why then was he was walking south toward the border, on this rutted dirt road leading to the town of Saric, a notorious staging point for drug smugglers? Because, he says, after two days without water and two nights shivering in near-freezing temperatures in his black T-shirt and thin jeans jacket, he’s done.

“I can’t go any farther — I want to see La Migra,” he adds, wiping his dusty face.

All the same, when a Border Patrol truck rolls up a few minutes later, Ivan’s shoulders sag and he sighs, utterly deflated.

The view from above: Fence at $6.5 million per mile

The Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, stretching 264 miles from the Yuma County line to the New Mexico border is the nation’s busiest by almost every government measure. Flying along the border in one of CBP’s Astar AS350 helicopters, it’s easy to see both the extent and the limitations of the CBP and the Border Patrol’s security measures.

Like a seam through the apartment and house-covered hills of Nogales, much more urbanized on the Mexican side, an 18-foot-tall steel fence, punctuated by 11 surveillance towers, stretches some eight miles from the main port of entry to the west. It rises and falls through neighborhoods that peter out into cattle pens and then scrublands dotted with mesquite trees. The Border Patrol has built or improved outlying roads to give agents faster access. Their green-and-white vehicles dot the roads.
Mobile surveillance units — trucks with cameras and radar systems — perch on sere hilltops. Screens and radio communications in the Astar’s cockpit show eight other aircraft, and one of the sector’s two drones, are aloft over some portion of the Tucson sector’s border.

But as pilot Steve Fasciola, deputy director of CBP’s Tucson air branch, flies farther west, towards the Altar Valley and the rugged Baboquivari Mountain range, the daunting nature of the challenge becomes clear.

The “pedestrian” fence, built at an average cost of $6.5 million a mile, according to a 2011 report by Homeland Security’s inspector general, ends abruptly. Beyond are miles of rolling grasslands and scrub desert. In the riverbeds and flats, there are stretches of vehicle fencing, essentially I-beams welded together in a sawhorse shape, $1.8 million a mile, interspersed with four-strand barbed-wire fence and, on the steep mountain slopes, no fences at all.

Most of this stretch is roadless, but scores of trails can be seen crossing from Mexico into Arizona, both in the flats and in the mountains. Fasciola circles over one peak where a small canopy and sleeping bag have been hurriedly abandoned. The distinctive sound of the helicopter’s rotors gives plenty of warning, Fasciola says through his headset.

“Most of the prominent peaks have scouts. Narcotics organizations put people up there with binoculars, radios and cellphones. They’ll monitor the Border Patrol and tell the traffickers where to go and when,” Fasciola says. “It’s a tough area for agents to work in. The terrain makes it easy to hide. It’s hard to access, and if we do catch up to groups, getting them out is tough as well.”

But then, that was the whole point of building stronger fences, Fasciola says. “Everybody knew that this is what it would do: push people to the edges and the remote areas.”
In the early and mid-1990s, San Diego was easily the busiest crossing point for migrants. Some parts of the border there were marked by a single cable. But by 2005, 14 miles of new steel fences had gone up, including, in some places, double or triple layers separated by a 150-foot floodlit “no man’s land.” These cut crossings, as imperfectly measured by apprehensions, by 95 percent.
As more fences went up in California, crossers pushed east into Yuma. From 2002 to 2005, apprehensions in the Yuma sector more than tripled. By 2005, Border Patrol agents there were nabbing an average of 375 migrants a day — double that on some days — and sending them right back across in what agents dismissed as “catch-and release.” Smugglers drove some 2,700 vehicles illegally across the border that year. Scores of migrants would gather at a time near San Luis, south of Yuma, and charge across the border, knowing most could slip past while outnumbered Border Patrol agents tried to grab whomever they could, like in a giant game of Red Rover, said agents in Yuma.
“They called them ‘banzai runs,’ ” Border Patrol Agent Spencer Tippets said. “There were so many people, it wasn’t unknown to arrest someone twice in a single shift.”
These days, some politicians point to Yuma as an example of how the rest of the border should be locked down. An ambitious effort starting in 2006 built 98 new miles of fencing, including a 68-mile stretch going deep into the Sonoran Desert, a San Diego-style floodlit triple fence along 1.7 miles of the most urbanized part of the Mexican border town of San Luis Rio Colorado, 16 miles of pedestrian fencing nearby, and 13 miles of vehicle fence along a section of border where the Colorado River runs low enough for vehicles to cross. Hundreds of National Guard units were brought in to help the Border Patrol, even as the number of agents in that sector nearly tripled.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 and a separate homeland-security bill called for building up to 700 miles of fencing, vastly boosting the use of sensors, unmanned aircraft and other technology, and doubling the number of Border Patrol agents along the whole border. More benchmarks were set in 2007 in an immigration-reform bill that ultimately failed.
In an effort to drive migrants elsewhere, Homeland Security adopted new, controversial strategies.
One, dubbed Operation Streamline, called for criminally prosecuting nearly all undocumented migrants in the highest-volume sectors (initially El Centro, in California, and the Yuma sector), for what previously had been considered civil violations. Migrants were held overnight or longer — and under another strategy, “lateral repatriation,” many were transported far to the east or west to make it harder for them to cross again right away after they were deported.
By 2009, the number of migrants apprehended in the Yuma sector had fallen by 95 percent from 2005 (versus 55 percent nationally). They’ve stayed down since, with 6,500 last fiscal year, according to the Border Patrol. That’s an average of fewer than 18 a day.
So where did all the migrants go? The dropping national figures suggest many stayed home as the job magnet of the U.S. economy weakened. But some tried their luck farther east, in the Tucson sector, which is harder to secure because of its size and rugged terrain. That sector saw a much slower decline (43 percent) over those years than Yuma or the nation as a whole.
And even as the migrants moved east, a second factor changed: more drugs coming through. The smugglers’ routes, too, were redirected by the taller fences and increased security. That’s clear from both CBP seizure data and from accounts by the ranchers who live on or near what have become some of the main routes — through the Altar Valley west of Nogales, through the Santa Cruz foothills east of the Interstate 19 corridor, or near Douglas, farther east.
These are the areas where some ranchers say they’ve fenced off their houses and sleep with guns by their beds.

Boots on the ground: Fewer crossings, more deaths

As Jim and Sue Chilton weave their truck down a winding dirt road through their 50,000-acre ranch, which includes a 5 1/2-mile slice of the Mexican border, they carry a .223 rifle with a 20-round clip, a 12-gauge shotgun, and water and food for migrants they may meet. In the past five years, the Chiltons put in 13 water fountains on their wells and the water lines leading to cattle troughs throughout their ranch, in hopes that migrants will use the fountains instead of damaging the pipes trying to get clean water.
“There’s nothing worse than running into people who are desperate, which we’ve done many times,” says Jim Chilton. He’s 74; Sue Chilton is 70. They’ve owned their ranch for 27 years, but Jim Chilton is a fifth-generation Arizona rancher.
One recent afternoon, they lead two journalists on a vigorous hike up a brush-studded gully to a hillside where last December Jim Chilton found four backpack-sized bales of marijuana, abandoned by smugglers who apparently fled on seeing him coming. Clothes and water bottles still litter the site. Farther up another hill, under a large overhanging mesquite tree that shields anyone under it from being seen from the air, more water bottles and other garbage carpet the ground.
Both of the Chiltons can tell tale after tale of encounters. One of their favorites is recent: In December, they let an NBC television crew place a camouflaged, motion-sensor video camera near where they found the marijuana.
“That thing was so well disguised, there’s no way you could have spotted it from the trail,” says Jim Chilton. But when he retrieved the camera and sent it to the network a week later, the video showed someone had walked up about 40 minutes after they’d placed the camera, and turned the lens so it pointed straight up into the air — meaning, Chilton says, with a rueful laugh, that cartel scouts must have been watching from a nearby hillside all along.
Other ranchers’ stories run along a similar vein.
Five years ago, scores of people walked across his ranch daily, mostly migrants heading north to find jobs, says Joe King, whose family has operated the Anvil Ranch, north of Sasabe and west of I-19, the Nogales-Tucson highway, since 1885. Those migrants left lots of trash and often damaged pipes and cattle troughs trying to get water, he says. As their numbers have dwindled, the drug smugglers have increased.
“The ones now, they don’t want to be seen, they don’t want to be noticed,” King said. “They don’t leave a lot of garbage, they’re stealthier.”
They’re also scarier, said Bill McGibbon, whose Santa Rita ranch lies east of I-19 beneath its namesake mountains.
“My wife, daughter in law and daughter are afraid to go out alone,” said McGibbon, who has lived near the border for 46 years. “I’ve had my cowboys threatened by drug people, and had rifles aimed at them – and by the time you alert the Border Patrol, they’re long gone.”
Veterinarian Gary Thrasher, who has a ranch near the small town of Palominas, west of Douglas, and travels that section of the border treating cattle and other animals, said of the Border Patrol’s strategy, “They’ve actually pretty well sealed the towns along the border, made them safe: Naco, Douglas, Nogales … Statistically, you can say it’s safer than it used to be; but they’ve driven it into more dangerous places than ever, farther from communication, farther from response time, where cellphones don’t work. People there are getting more traffic and getting more danger.”
The most frequent victims of this change in routes have been the migrants themselves. Even as fewer people cross illegally, more of them are dying. Last fiscal year, Border Patrol agents rescued 1,333 migrants, according to CBP. But 477 migrants died trying to cross from Mexico. Compared with five years ago, 20 percent more died last year even as Border Patrol apprehensions fell by 58 percent.
Looked at as a ratio, a migrant was three times likelier to die crossing the border last year than in 2007.

At the shelter in Nogales: “I’ll try again”

On a recent, brisk evening in Nogales, Sonora, deportees sit outside the local office of Grupo Beta on wooden benches, sharing warnings and tales of dangers with migrants who haven’t yet tried their luck. Most Mexican border towns, have a Grupo Beta office; it’s the Mexican federal agency that helps those newly deported from the United States and other migrants find food, shelter or a way home. “Don’t put yourself or your family in danger,” blares a poster on one wall. “Putting your children in the hands of coyotes or polleros is like abandoning them in the desert,” warns another.
It’s easy to spot the deportees. They’re the ones without belts or shoelaces. Border Patrol agents remove those from the people they detain to deter suicide attempts, and they don’t generally give them back.
Felipe Reyes Toledo sits with two other youths, waiting for a ride to a shelter where he’ll be fed and given a cot for the night. His left arm is in a sling, his left leg heavily bandaged. His wispy beard makes him look younger than his 20 years.
Reyes, who’s from Oaxaca, says he crossed the border two weeks earlier, north of the town of Altar, with two other men and four young women. Their guide collected $500 from each of them; but he ditched them in the desert. After three days without food or water, they were nearing a major highway (Reyes couldn’t name it, but his description matches I-19), when they were confronted by a group of five armed men — what the Border Patrol calls a “rip” crew — robbers who target drug smugglers and migrants.
“Two of the girls ran away,” says Reyes in a low voice. “When they took the other two girls away, we tried to stop them, and they beat us until we played dead. We were hurt, but we made our way to the highway and La Migra came up. They held us three days. Then they brought me here two days ago.”
He says he has no idea what happened to any of the others he was with. Reyes had hoped to find work so he could send money home to his family, who grows corn. But now he’s headed back to Oaxaca.
Mirna Valerio, a cheerful, chatty woman with a mop of curly black hair, offers her warning: Don’t believe, as she and her husband did, the people who charge you $100 to put a ladder against the fence right in downtown Nogales, saying you can climb over and quickly blend into the crowds.
“It’s a lie,” she says, shaking her head. “We were spotted immediately. We ran but they caught us.”
She, too, says it’s too tough to cross now. She shrugs, sighs and says she and her husband, Misal Hernandez, are heading back home to Puebla the next day.
Such stories do little to dissuade others who’ve trekked for days and weeks just to get this far. As the migrants pack into a long van that rattles its way to the San Juan Bosco shelter on the south end of town, Jose, 17, says he spent a week and a half hopping 15 freight trains to get to Nogales from Escuintla, on the Pacific coast of Guatemala.
“You have to pay attention; there are robbers on the trains,” he says. Other passengers nod and murmur in agreement. “It’s easy to cross the border into Mexico, but then you have to pay,” he adds.
Another passengers asks him where he’ll cross. “Don’t do it here,” calls out a man in the back. “Cross in Tijuana – it’s an easier walk, more trees, less mountainous.” Another passenger shakes his head, muttering that Tijuana isn’t like it used to be.
The shelter, which Hilda and Francisco Loureiro have operated for 31 years, is tidy, safe and spartan. Before dinner, the migrants sit on folding chairs in the chapel, where an officer from the Mexico’s Human Rights Commission, after explaining to the non-Mexicans what their rights are in Mexico, again warns them about the dangers they’ll face.
“Be aware that you do risk your life,” the man tells them. “People get lost, run out of food, out of water. You may be kidnapped, attacked… and in the U.S., it’s not like here. It’s a crime to enter the country illegally. It’s their house; it’s their rules.”
But the next morning, as the rain drums on the tin roof of a soup kitchen, run by Catholic nuns and priests, where the migrants have been sent for breakfast, their plans continue.
After the talk, as others move to the dining room, Leidi del Lucero, 18, barely 5 feet tall, prays intently in a corner of the small chapel. On a nearby crucifix, both arms of the figure of Jesus are covered with red ID bracelets once worn by deportees.
She reluctantly admits she has been caught three times crossing near Nogales in the past two months. Each time, she says with a sigh, she paid a guide 3,000 pesos — about $240. The first time, she’d walked for three days when La Migra caught her group; the second time, for two days; the third time, she was caught after just one day. She has an older brother in El Norte, as some migrants call the United States, but she won’t say where because she’s not ready to give up. She made her way here from Playa del Carmen, on Yucatan’s Caribbean coast; and she’s hopeful her brother will wire her money for another guide.
“If my brother will help me, I’ll try again,” she says.
Manuel Gonzalez, 24, is one of at leave four men at the soup kitchen that morning trying to get back to their families in Phoenix. Gonzalez, wearing a crucifix around his neck, says he first crossed with his parents in 2004, and lived in Phoenix until last June, working in construction, washing dishes in a Chinese restaurant in Gilbert.
“I was stopped by the Mesa police,” he says. “I was driving without a license.”
After being detained nearly eight months, he was deported to Piedras Negras, west of Eagle Pass, Texas, ten days earlier. He says he’ll cross again. He has a daughter, Rosie, born in January, whom he’s never held. So he’ll try his luck shortly in Agua Prieta, south of Douglas, Ariz.
“I know the road there… there’s a wall, but not all over. Where I’ll cross there’s just car barriers,” he says. After a few moments of silence, he adds, looking around at the long tables where other migrants are eating their stew and tortillas, “I had a girlfriend, a house, a car, a phone, a dog… It’s a sad story. But there are a lot of them here.”

At the checkpoints: A million pounds of pot

At the Yuma port of entry, a line of traffic going north, most with Sonora plates, backs up at the Sentri lane for “trusted travelers” who’ve passed a security check. Customs officers are searching an SUV. They soon find tightly wrapped bundles of heroin in the wheel wells, and arrest the young, well-dressed woman driving it, cuffing her hands behind her back and taking her 4-year-old daughter into custody.
Even as the number of migrants detained annually in Arizona has dropped by 70 percent over the past five years, to about 126,500, according to CBP, drug seizures have climbed.
Legal ports of entry are where most heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine seizures are made, CBP officers say. In one week in mid-March, CBP officers made five seizures at Arizona ports of entry totaling 148 pounds of cocaine, 90 pounds of meth, and 9 pounds of heroin. But, by volume, marijuana dwarfs everything else. One day in mid-March, Nogales CBP officers seized a 1-ton shipment of pot in a tractor-trailer of bell peppers; the next day, they arrested another tractor-trailer driver with 6,219 pounds of marijuana in boxes labeled as vacuum pumps and lamp holders.
The Tucson sector is the main marijuana corridor from Mexico, accounting for 44 percent of all Border Patrol marijuana seizures across the entire Southwest border last fiscal year. Border Patrol agents in the Tucson sector seized more than 1 million pounds of pot, down slightly from a year earlier but still up 14 percent from a then-record 890,000 pounds seized in 2007, according to CBP.

Most commonly, that marijuana is hauled across in remote areas by teams of backpackers, agents say. Tracking them remains a challenge. The drones (10 of which have cost $240 million to buy and operate to date) are useful, agents say, but they are sensitive to high winds and the Border Patrol hasn’t yet trained enough controllers to fly them. Last fiscal year, each drone averaged just over an hour and a half in the air a day.

The seizures haven’t made a dent in the street price. Five years ago, a pound of marijuana in Phoenix, the main trans-shipment point for pot from Mexico, typically sold for $400 to $650 a pound, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Last year’s price: $450 to $600 a pound.

Nor has border security dented traffic in guns headed south. Over the past five years, CBP and Border Patrol officers have seized, on average, fewer than 2,000 weapons a year presumably headed to the criminal groups sending the drugs north. That represents less than 1 percent of the estimated 252,000 weapons that are bought in the United States and smuggled south each year, according to a recent economic study by the University of San Diego’s Transborder Institute and the Igarapé Institute, based in Brazil.

“This is an issue that has been studiously ignored by the media,” said Topher MacDougal, one of the authors of the study. He calls for strong background checks, banning cash purchases of guns along the border and tougher criminal penalties for “straw” buyers — people with clean records who buy guns on behalf of those who wouldn’t pass background checks.

Current discussions about border security have been complicated by the sequester, steep budget cuts imposed by Congress last month, expected to stay in place through the end of the fiscal year in September. CBP said that furloughs and cuts in overtime would reduce Border Patrol agent hours for the rest of this fiscal year by the equivalent of 5,000 full-time positions, nearly a quarter of the force. Hours of CBP officers, who work in the ports of entry and rack up less overtime, would be cut 12.5 percent. Congress restored some funds through a continuing resolution in late March; CBP said it is re-evaluating its reductions.

The difference already is obvious. On a recent drive from I-19 through the town of Arivaca to Sasabe, a week before the sequester, 14 Border Patrol vehicles were visible along the road, in addition to three at a checkpoint. At one point about eight miles north of Sasabe, four glum migrants, cuffed by agents, sat waiting to be searched and loaded into a truck.

A week after the sequester, at the same time of day, the checkpoint was still operating; but not a single Border Patrol vehicle could be seen anywhere else along the same 43-mile route. A Border Patrol spokesman said the number of vehicles on the road had been reduced by half since the sequester, with agents doubling up. He did not know why none were visible that particular day.

How secure is the border? ‘You’ll never get it to zero’

Inside his sprawling ranch house, Jim Chilton walks past a stuffed mountain lion and up a few steps to a heavy custom-made wooden dining-room table, and unrolls a map of the border. He jabs at it to make a point — one that is echoed by the local cattle growers association, as ranchers call themselves.

“They should secure the border at the border,” he says.

Border Patrol officials describe their strategy as multilayered. In urban areas such as downtown Nogales, where people can rapidly vanish and agents have minutes at most to detain crossers, they use large numbers of agents and cameras along the fence to try to spot and catch people immediately. In rural and desert areas, where it takes migrants and smugglers hours or days to get to major roads, agents use ground sensors, towers with cameras and night-vision lenses, truck-mounted mobile surveillance systems, agent patrols and checkpoints to try to catch people up to 60 miles north of the border.

Many ranchers say they see the need for immigration reforms, and say there should be easier ways for people who want work to enter the country legally.

But they’re indignant, even infuriated, by a strategy that, as rancher Gary Thrasher puts it, “makes where we live a third country, a no man’s land, and cedes it to the cartels.”

Ask any Arizona rancher about border security and almost inevitably the conversation will turn to Rob Krentz. He was shot to death on his ranch north of Douglas on March 27, 2010, after radioing his brother that he was going to help a migrant who seemed to be in trouble. No suspect was ever identified; but ranchers and most locals presume it was a drug smuggler. Krentz’s death immediately led to calls for increased border security from Arizona’s members of Congress and Gov. Jan Brewer. And it has continued to stoke fears among ranchers that drug violence is crossing the border.

But Krentz’s murder remains remarkable in its singularity, given the massive traffic. During the initial investigation, then-Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever noted that Krentz would be the first Arizona rancher killed by a smuggler in 30 years. Over the past decade in Arizona, federal and local law-enforcement officers have made thousands of arrests of smugglers, seized millions of pounds of marijuana and other drugs and have caught more than 3.6 million migrants.

In the Tucson sector alone, since 2006, agents have caught nearly 1.8 million migrants, and estimate that more than 850,000 have made it through.

Encounters involving the Border Patrol have been more often deadly. In the three years since Krentz was murdered, Border Patrol agents in Arizona have shot and killed six people — mostly youths or men either running from or allegedly throwing rocks at agents; but this tally includes agent Nicholas Ivie, shot to death Oct. 2 after he reportedly opened fire on two other agents responding to a tripped sensor near Naco.

Four other Border Patrol agents in Arizona have died in the line of duty since 2010: two killed when their vehicle was hit by a freight train near Yuma, another whose vehicle was struck by another car on the Tohono O’odham reservation, and one, Brian Terry, shot to death in an encounter with a suspected “rip” crew in December 2010 near Rio Rico. The weapon that killed Terry was linked to a federal operation, Fast & Furious, that lost track of guns allowed to be smuggled south in hopes of tracing them to high-ranking drug cartel members.

The ranchers vary on their proposed solutions — Joe King calls for stationing soldiers returning from Afghanistan along the border; David Lowell, who owns the Atascosa ranch in Peck Canyon, wants to see a solid wall along the entire border; Chilton calls for building more roads to give agents access to the parts they can’t get to easily now, dismissing worries about potential environmental impacts on local wildlife as overstated. But they largely demand that the Border Patrol stop smugglers and migrants as close to the border as possible.

Will that ever happen?

At a recent Border Expo in Phoenix, where military contractors and other vendors were pitching their wares to government officials, The Republic put the query to a posse of former CBP and Immigration and Customs Enforcement directors. They agreed, unanimously: never.

“It’s unrealistic to think we can catch everyone at the border,” said W. Ralph Basham, who served as Secret Service director and then as CBP commissioner under President George W. Bush. “That’s why the Border Patrol looks at it in layers ... To do it at the border is unachievable; the amount of money it would cost and the number of agents it would require would be beyond our capabilities.”
Julie Myers-Wood, former head of ICE under George W. Bush, called the ranchers’ demands “entirely divorced from reality.”

“It’s a zero-sum game,” added Jason Ahern, who served for 33 years in Customs, then CBP before retiring as acting commissioner in 2009. “You have to analyze your resources and deploy them in a thoughtful way.”

Current plans — unaffected by the sequester — call for more surveillance technology. Sixteen new mobile-surveillance trucks are due to be delivered in Tucson by July. And 14 new miles of fencing are under construction in the Rio Grande Valley, in Texas. But questions about just how thoughtfully Homeland Security has deployed resources along the border continue to dog the department.

A few days after the expo, CBP Assistant Commissioner Mark Borkowski stunned lawmakers at a House hearing in Washington when he said that, two years after Homeland Security promised Congress to come up with better measures of border security, he still can’t say when those measures will be ready. What is being called the Border Security Index would include such measures as crime rates along the border, rates of legal crossing and commercial traffic; but it isn’t clear it will be part of any immigration-reform bill.

“We have to get it to a trickle,” said former CBP Commissioner Robert Bonner. “You’ll never get to zero.”

On the same morning Bonner says this, the newest batch of deportees in Nogales eat breakfast at a soup kitchen a few minutes walk from the border. Many will try to cross again within days.

As for Ivan, the youth whom rancher Jim Chilton encountered, the Border Patrol said he was returned to Mexico, but not through Nogales, in coordination with the Mexican consulate in Tucson the next day. Citing privacy issues, neither the Border Patrol nor the consulate would say where he was sent. So as with so many who cross in remote reaches of the border, where he has wound up remains unclear.


Senate immigration plan includes border crackdown

The Washington Post
April 10, 2013
by David Nakamura

Federal authorities would be required to establish vast new border fences and surveillance as part of a bipartisan Senate plan aimed at allowing the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants to earn permanent residency and, potentially, citizenship, aides familiar with the proposal said Wednesday.

The provisions would call on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to increase surveillance to cover 100 percent of the Southwestern border and to apprehend 90 percent of the people who attempt to enter the United States illegally, said the aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose private negotiations.

An eight-member Senate group is nearing agreement on a comprehensive proposal that would represent the most sweeping overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws in nearly three decades. Aides said the legislation will be unveiled ahead of a hearing on the bill scheduled Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who is expected to testify, recently expressed skepticism about the idea of using new border-control metrics as a “trigger” that would make or break a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants.

Advocates also have voiced concerns about tying border security to the path to citizenship, saying they feared that disputes over the effectiveness of the new measures could delay the process for undocumented residents. President Obama has said a comprehensive immigration bill must offer a “clear path” to citizenship.

Democrats emphasized that the new border-control metrics represent “goals” but are not intended as specific “triggers” that would potentially delay the path to citizenship.

“The legislation spells out goals,” one Democratic aide said. “These are resource-based measures, not outcome-based.”

The Obama administration has said the border is already more secure than it has been in decades. But the Government Accountability Office found that the Border Patrol had only 44 percent of the Southwestern border under “operational control” in 2010.

Nestor Rodriguez, a professor at the University of Texas who has studied the Southwestern border, said that although it is possible to surveil the entire border, it might not be necessary, especially considering the enormous financial investment required.

The four Republicans in the working group, including Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), pushed hard for beefed-up security measures, which are viewed as critical to garnering GOP support in the Senate and House for a comprehensive reform bill.

Asked if the provisions were strong enough to convince his GOP colleagues to support the bill, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a member of the working group, said Wednesday: “Damned if I know.”

Rubio has been cautious in his public statements about the legislation. He was expected to brief the GOP caucus at its Wednesday luncheon, but did not because senators were focused on an emerging bipartisan agreement on background checks for private gun sales, aides said.

GOP aides said the border-control measures were meant to assure immigration skeptics that significant new security provisions would be in place before illegal immigrants are rewarded with green cards, which signify permanent-resident status, or citizenship.

Under the terms of the proposal, DHS would submit a plan to reach the new milestones within nine months of the immigration legislation becoming law. The bill authorizes $3 billion to help the agency deploy new surveillance technology, including aerial drones for treacherous border regions, and build new fencing.

Another $4 billion would go toward expanding a workplace screening system known as E-Verify and setting up a border entry-exit tracking system to identify foreigners who have overstayed their visas, Senate aides said.

If DHS is unable to meet the benchmarks within five years, a border commission composed of governors and attorneys general in Southwestern states would receive federal funds to pursue additional measures for five more years.

“The takeaway here is that this will easily be the toughest border-enforcement system this country has ever had,” a Republican aide said.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Cornyn, McCaul to Introduce Border Security Measure

The Texas Tribune
April 9, 2013
by Julian Aguilar

Doubling down on their vows to focus on border security before considering immigration reform, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, will file legislation on Tuesday that will further scrutinize how well the federal government protects the U.S.-Mexico border.

A Cornyn aide said the Border Security Results Act will “lay down a marker for what must be done on the border security front before we can reform our broken immigration system.”
Cornyn currently serves as the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee, and McCaul is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
The legislation will be introduced as a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight purportedly moves closer to introducing a bill to overhaul the country’s immigration system. Republicans and Democrats, including President Obama, have argued that the border needs to be secure before reform can be passed. But discussions on how that end is achieved — and how success is measured — have been contentious.

Cornyn and McCaul's border security bill will require the Department of Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection, to readopt the metrics by which they determine if a portion of the border is under “operational control.”

Under operational control, illegal crossers are either detected, deterred or apprehended at the border or within 100 miles of the border. A 2011 Government Accountability Office study found that about 875 miles of the 2,000-mile southern border were under operational control.

Cornyn’s office said DHS in 2010 stopped the metric “operational control” to gauge border security and has not replaced it, leaving nothing in place to evaluate the agency’s progress.

Cornyn and McCaul's bill will also require federal agents on the border to set a 90 percent apprehension rate goal for people who enter the country without inspection, and set a 50 percent reduction in wait times at the nation’s ports as the standard. The bill will also require DHS to attain “full situational awareness of our borders through technology, manpower and results-based metrics,” the aide said.

Proponents of immigration reform, including several Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups, cite recent apprehension data as proof that the border is more secure than it has been. Apprehensions have fallen to record lows, which DHS said indicates that fewer people are attempting to enter the country illegally. And a recent report by the Migration Policy Institute estimates that in fiscal year 2012, the federal government spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement efforts, about 24 percent more than it spent in combined funding for the FBI, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshal's Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Firearms and Explosives.

Cornyn is not convinced. Last week during DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s visit to Texas, Cornyn released a hard-line statement.

“Recent news reports noting wide gaps in security along the U.S.-Mexico border and scores of individuals crossing into the U.S. illegally continue to fly in the face of the Obama administration’s insistence that our border is secure,” he said in a statement.

“Texans — and all Americans — would appreciate a healthy dose of reality from Secretary Napolitano.”


Friday, April 5, 2013

Autopsy in Border Patrol shooting suggests trajectory from back and below

Nogales International
February 8, 2013
by Kurt Pendergast

The autopsy report of a 16-year-old Sonoran youth who was shot and killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent last October suggests that he was shot as many as 11 times and most of the shots struck him in the back.

What’s more, the apparent upward trajectory of some of the bullets raises questions about the position Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez was in when he was shot on a Nogales, Sonora street after allegedly throwing rocks at law enforcement officers standing at least 10 feet above him behind the border fence on West International Street.

According to an independent expert who reviewed the autopsy report, one possible explanation for the discrepancy between the trajectory and the physical location is that the Sonoran physicians who conducted the autopsy confused the entry and exit wounds.

“Another one is that the story’s not right,” said Dr. Gregory Hess, chief medical examiner for Pima County. “There’s all kinds of different ways to look at it, but if the story’s correct and their trajectories are correct, then somehow the person that got shot would have had to have been off their feet.”
The report was signed by Dr. Absalon Madrigal Godinez and Dr. Javier Diaz Trejo, medical examiners in Nogales, Sonora who conducted the autopsy of Rodriguez’s body early on Oct. 11, 2012, less than 12 hours after he was shot. The NI obtained a copy of the report from Luis Parra, an attorney representing the Elena Rodriguez family in Arizona, and then asked Hess to interpret the report’s findings.
Previous reports from attorneys and Sonoran officials put the number of bullets that impacted Rodriguez’s body at seven or eight. But Hess, who reviewed the report with the help of a translator from the medical examiner’s office, noted “maybe up to 10 or 11” gunshot wounds.
The trajectory of the bullets described in the report was from Rodriguez’s “back to his front, from his right to his left, and slightly upward,” Hess said, adding that the Sonoran medical examiners recovered six projectiles in Rodriguez’s body, according to the report.
In addition to the possibility that the medical examiners confused the entry and exit wounds, Hess noted that another possible explanation for the varying trajectory of the bullets could be that a number of rounds were fired in rapid succession, with the first rounds knocking Rodriguez to the ground before the subsequent rounds impacted.
However, determining which bullet impacted first if multiple rounds were fired is problematic, he said. “There’s no way, based on the autopsy, you can tell which one came first unless they were really separated in time, like a day or something like that, then you could look at healing and stuff like that,” he said.
When asked for comment on the autopsy report and an update on the investigation, a spokesperson for the FBI, the lead U.S. agency in the case, declined to comment on an ongoing investigation. The agency has declined to release any information on the case since taking over the investigation from the Border Patrol and Nogales Police Department on the night of the shooting.
A statement released by the Border Patrol in the wake of the incident said that an agent fired into Mexico, apparently striking one person, in response to rock-throwers who were attempting to disrupt a drug-smuggling attempt at the border fence.
The Elena Rodriguez family has not heard anything from federal agencies, other than the initial statements released directly after the shooting, said Parra, the attorney who, along with Roberto Montiel, is representing the family in Arizona.
“They believe that after three months, there should be at least some response from Border Patrol, from the Department of Homeland Security, or the Department of Justice,” he said.
“The family thinks it’s a tragedy and they’re insisting on having answers,” he said.
“We’re being respectful of the timeline of the investigation,” Parra said, noting that the investigation by Mexican authorities concluded in December. “But we do believe that at least some information should be provided at this point by the [U.S.] government.”


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Border security quandary could kill immigration bill

USA Today
April 2, 2013
by Alan Gomez

Though many in Washington have been hailing the recent progress made on a sweeping immigration bill that would legalize the nation's estimated 11million illegal immigrants, major disagreements over how best to secure the nation's Southwest border with Mexico threaten to derail the process.

Lawmakers in the nation's capital are largely in agreement that the border must be secured, but the next battle will be how to secure it — and over what time period. A failure to find common ground on this critical issue could be enough to snuff out a compromise, and with it the first comprehensive immigration legislation in more than a quarter-century.

"I wouldn't vote for the president's fast-track, and I wouldn't vote for the Senate's slower track," said Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, a member of a bipartisan group of House members drafting a House immigration plan. "I think there's a better way to do it."

That "fast track" is President Obama's argument that illegal immigrants need a path to legal status now and should not wait until the border is secured. In the Senate, a bipartisan group of senators — the "Gang of Eight" — is trying to craft a provision in their bill that could quantify and establish a level of border security that must be reached before illegal immigrants can apply for legal residency and U.S. citizenship.

Though many congressional Republicans understand the political reality that the party needs to remake its image with Latinos after the 2012 election, the pall from the last major immigration law still hangs over today's negotiations. That landmark bill, signed in 1986 by President Reagan, was sold as a solution to illegal immigration and a way to secure the border. The citizenship part happened; the border part did not. Millions of people from Mexico and other parts of Latin America have continued to enter illegally through a porous Southwest border, and others who entered the country legally have continued overstaying their visas.

"The amnesty provisions become law, they become final ... and the promises of enforcement don't occur. I really believe that is a danger again," Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said in February on the Senate floor, echoing a fear among many of the party faithful.

Republicans backed the 1986 bill that granted amnesty to an estimated 3 million illegal immigrants. The legislation was coupled with a vow to close illegal border crossings and crack down on the hiring of these immigrants, neither of which occurred. Now the GOP demands the border be secured for good before agreeing to citizenship for those who are here.

Some senators were excited to clear one roadblock to a deal this past weekend when the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest coalition of labor unions, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, agreed to support giving up to 200,000 visas a year to foreigners for janitorial, hospitality and construction work. But that agreement would go nowhere if a deal on security cannot be reached.


Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a rising GOP star viewed as a possible 2016 presidential contender, was the Gang of Eight member chosen to sell the immigration plan to several conservative media outlets. During one appearance, radio host Rush Limbaugh told Rubio that many listeners were worried the Senate group wouldn't take border security seriously.

"If it doesn't, then I'll come back to you and say, 'Look, it didn't. We tried,'" Rubio responded during the January interview.

There is disagreement over how one shuts down a border stretching 1,969 miles across desert, mountain passes and the Rio Grande. Some sheriffs along the border say the answer is more "boots on the ground," or border guards blocking those who try to make the trek despite the odds.

In fact, the federal government boosted the number of Border Patrol agents from just over 4,000 in 1993 to more than 21,000 in 2012. That increase, as well as the economic recession that eliminated many of the jobs luring so many illegal immigrants, led to sharp drops in crossings. More than 1 million people a year crossed the border illegally from 2004-06. By 2012, that number was 364,000.

Sheriff Paul Babeu of Arizona's Pinal County says more boots is only part of the answer. Babeu previously commanded a unit of Army National Guard troops who patrolled the border and is now sheriff of an inland county that is a major channel for human and drug smuggling. His solution to seal the border: Add 6,000 border agents and National Guardsmen, build more fencing and rigorously enforce existing laws. "You can get close to that, yes," he said.

Others along the border say the strategy, not the number, of federal agents there needs to change.
Donald Reay, executive director of the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition — which includes the chief law enforcement officer of all Texas counties within 25 miles of the border — said Border Patrol agents in his state often work miles inland, focusing on high-volume immigration corridors rather than patrolling the border itself. That leads many ranchers and farmers who live along the border to say they live in "almost America."

"They're not seeing Border Patrol on a regular basis," Reay said. "That's a decision that's made in Washington. It's hard for us to tell another agency, 'You're doing your job wrong.' But our sheriffs have to try to fill that gap. And quite frankly, we don't have the manpower to do that."

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., both in the Gang of Eight, toured the Arizona border last Wednesday and watched as a woman scaled an 18-foot-high border fence in Nogales. Both said Border Patrol needs more technological assistance to fill in gaps.

Though agents already use cameras, sensors and drones to monitor people crossing the border, those technologies need to be augmented, Schumer said.

"We have adequate manpower, but not adequate technology," he said after the tour.


Former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff said Congress also needs to figure out how to identify "visa overstays" — about 40% of illegal immigrants entered the country legally with a visa but stayed after it expired. At least two of the 9/11 hijackers were in the U.S. after overstaying tourist visas. Chertoff also said little has been done to monitor people who enter illegally by water.

He said focusing solely on the Southwest border "would be like if you have three doors to your house and you only lock one. This popular image of people running across the deserts or the mountains only accounts for a percentage of the total issue," he said.

Others say the problem of illegal crossings will fade away when the country reforms its legal immigration system.

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar says the U.S. government has approached the problem of illegal immigration in a "completely backward way." She said most people illegally enter the country to work, so reforming the nation's visa system to allow more foreign workers in temporarily would slow illegal crossings. That would then allow the government to concentrate law enforcement efforts on illegal immigrants who might pose a true threat to national security.

Though that might sound simple enough, just defining what security means has become a point of contention in negotiations.

For years, the Department of Homeland Security relied on a measurement called "operational control" of the border, which Congress defined in 2006 as "the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics and contraband." In 2007, Border Patrol defined operational control as "the ability to detect, respond and interdict border penetrations in areas deemed as high priority for threat potential or other national security objectives."

In 2010, Border Patrol estimated it had established operational control of 873 miles of the border, or 44%. The next year, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said the agency was scrapping operational control as a metric and would develop a new measurement for border security: the "border condition index."

Now, DHS says that metric may not be a viable way to truly explain how secure the border is.


During a March 20 House committee hearing, DHS said its agents were using a wide variety of metrics — including apprehensions of people along the border, economic measurements and hotel vacancy rates on the Mexican side of the border — to help them figure out where they need to concentrate efforts. But department officials cautioned it might not be possible to use such a metric as a final grade on overall border security.

That reaction upset House Republicans who had been waiting for years for the new measurement.
"We have a moment in time here," said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., chair of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security. "If we do not as a nation have a high degree of confidence that we are securing our border, or are on the path to measuring border security in a way that we feel confident in, I think this whole comprehensive immigration reform is going to be a very difficult lift."