As Democrats and Republicans continue to debate the most viable path to achieve a comprehensive immigration overhaul, both sides are staking their claim as to who has the better plan. As a member who has sat on the Homeland Security Committee since its inception, I have watched and participated in this debate and have witnessed both failures and successes. Many Republicans claim that nothing or little has been done to enforce the laws currently on the books or to secure our border.
I disagree, and today I want set the record straight.
As legislation to change our immigration system takes shape in the Senate, many Republicans are using the same old excuses, such as “we need to secure our borders first” or “President Obama has not done enough to enforce our current immigration laws” to prevent a comprehensive immigration overhaul bill from moving forward.
If border security is only looked at through the prism of “is the border secure,” we will forever be searching for the answer. But looking at what has been done over the past several years, you will see that a massive commitment to securing our borders has spanned two presidents. In the past eight years alone, we have nearly doubled our Border Patrol agents. Coupled with a 370 percent increase in fencing along the southwest border and significant investments in technology and surveillance equipment, including unmanned aerial vehicles, we currently have a net negative migration rate from Mexico.
To the chagrin of many Democrats and immigration activists throughout the country, Obama has used the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain and deport a record number of individuals, more than any other president in U.S. history. In fact, in 2012 alone, Obama deported more than 409,000 individuals, with more than half of them being convicted felons or guilty of misdemeanors. To put these numbers into perspective, Obama’s administration has deported as many undocumented immigrants in one term in office as President Bush did in two terms.
In the coming weeks, I will draft legislation that will enhance the current security apparatus by improving the infrastructure at various ports of entry, including El Paso and San Ysidro. These improvements will not only strengthen the system we have but will also further commerce and trade opportunities, which is crucial to border communities. I will also ask Customs and Border Protection to create metrics and a timeline for further developing border security goals.
To assess what else must be done to secure our borders, it is crucial that we understand the progress that has already been made. During my time as chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism, we focused on a smart and effective approach to border security, one that included port-of-entry infrastructure improvement and technology upgrades throughout all borders.
We also facilitated the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which further secured our border, while also improving commerce. We have made significant strides in securing our border and combating illegal immigration.
To say nothing has been done, or our borders are not secure, is nothing less than disingenuous.
A comprehensive immigration overhaul is on the cusp of becoming a reality. Now is the time to act on these necessary and important changes to our immigration system. The president and Democrats in Congress have done our part to secure the border. Now it is high time that we create a fair and humane path to legal status for the millions of undocumented immigrants in our country.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., serves on the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.