The saying goes, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Our nation’s recent past demonstrates that unless an immigration overhaul is contingent on securing our borders, the work will not get done. Therefore, if Congress again addresses immigration changes without focusing on the root of the problem, we will undoubtedly repeat this debate a decade from now.
A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 8 out of 10 Americans believe that increased border security should be included in any proposed changes to our immigration laws. As a native Texan, I know why.
Less than 10 years ago, a trip from my home state across the border to Nuevo Laredo, one of several Mexican border cities, was routine. As a result, commerce and culture flowed across the border, benefiting both countries. Today, after years of lacking border security efforts, such travel is almost unthinkable. Sadly, the border has turned into a magnet for spillover violence from Central American drug cartels.
In addition to human and drug trafficking, just last year a plot uncovered by the Drug Enforcement Administration involved the terrorist arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard attempting to forge alliances with Mexican drug cartels seeking to infiltrate our Southwest border.
While these threats exist, you would be surprised to find that the administration thinks its work here is done. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has repeatedly claimed that the border is more secure than ever, but when DHS officials were pressed at a recent Homeland Security Committee hearing to demonstrate how this progress has been measured, they had no verifiable metrics to support their claims.
In fact, Napolitano has stopped using the widely accepted term of “operational control.” This was not because they had achieved it — it was precisely the opposite. A February 2011 Government Accountability Office report said the Border Patrol had merely 44 percent of the Southwest border under operational control and only 15 percent was airtight.
History proves where we’ve gone wrong. For too long the emphasis when discussing border security has been on the number of boots on the ground, but this is only part of the equation.
While a strong, skilled patrol force is mandatory, when manpower, resources and technology are deployed without an overarching strategy to achieve a specific, measurable goal, these elements are often duplicative, short-sighted or wasted entirely. This is the very definition of “throwing resources at a problem,” and it doesn’t add up to securing the border. My goal is to change this approach in order to complete the equation.
Ten years after the creation of the DHS, we still do not have a comprehensive strategy to gain operational control of our borders. While the number of agents and funds sent to the border are important, anyone who understands management knows that how those assets are used is infinitely more important.
The administration’s ad hoc border approach, which includes more than a dozen strategies and 22 independent units directing border operations, has resulted in a balloon effect of illegal migration on the border. Sending record levels of resources to certain sectors has caused shifts in migration, leaving some sections relatively tight and others as lawless frontiers.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., walks on Broadway after a Future Forum with young entrepreneurs in the Flatiron District of New York City, April 16, 2015. Reps. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., also attended.