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.
The extent of the gaps in border security is huge. A recent Los Angeles Times report showed that by using proven aerial surveillance equipment from Afghanistan, we can now see just how much we’ve been missing. The data shows that the Border Patrol is apprehending less than half of illegal border crossers in certain sectors, which is significantly less than current estimates.
While this report is startling, it offers insight into what should be the pathway to securing our borders. We can upgrade our capabilities by incorporating existing taxpayer-owned technology such as Department of Defense Sensor Surveillance equipment used in Iraq and Afghanistan in order to gain comprehensive visibility of the border landscape. Once we have the complete picture of who we are missing, we allocate patrol and response teams appropriately and ultimately gauge our progress.
I have introduced bipartisan legislation in the House, and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, has introduced the Senate version, to accomplish these goals by compelling the DHS to finally develop a comprehensive outcome-based strategy for securing our borders that incorporates advanced technology to achieve visibility of our entire border, metrics and manpower allocation based on that situational awareness and a timeline for development. The results of the strategy will be verified by outside experts.
Americans experienced the lack of follow-through on border security after the last major immigration overhaul in 1986. As we broach the same subject, the safety and security of our homeland cannot again fall by the wayside. Last week’s bombings in Boston are a stark reminder that the terrorist threat against America still exists and that it has never been more important to secure the homeland.
The administration may claim the border has been secured, but there are around 11 million people whose presence suggests otherwise. Ten years from now, we cannot have this same conversation. American individuals, immigrants and the dedicated public servants working on our borders deserve better this time around. We can solve the equation this time.
Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, is chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.