Secretary Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was again under the microscope during the February 13 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Comprehensive Immigration Reform regarding the attainment of the elusive undefined goal of “border security.” The goal that continues to muck up efforts to achieve immigration reform.
From El Paso, the goal does not appear that elusive. El Paso was yet again – the third year in a row - named the safest city with a population greater that 500,000 by CQ Press, which compiles FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.
Based on Secretary Napolitano’s testimony:
• Attempts to cross the Southwest border illegally, as measured by Border Patrol apprehensions, have decreased 49 percent over the past four years, and are 78 percent lower than what they were at their peak.
• The U.S. Border Patrol is staffed at a higher level than at any time in its 88-year history. DHS has doubled the number of agents from approximately 10,000 in 2004 to more than 21,000 today. Along the Southwest border, the number of Border Patrol agents has increased by 94 percent to nearly 18,500.
• In Fiscal Year 2012, approximately 55 percent, or more than 225,000, of the individuals that ICE removed from the United States were convicted of felonies or misdemeanors — a more than 96 percent increase since Fiscal Year 2008. (Of course, I would point out that it would be useful to know how many of the felonies and misdemeanors relate to illegal entry and reentry cases.)
• The DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is developing criteria for evaluation of new technologies that may provide the ability to capture biometrics upon exit. As DHS noted in the 2012 plan, we will evaluate technological options within the constraints of the current fiscal environment. S&T is developing a test environment for a variety of biometric technologies in order for DHS to identify how to implement a process that increases the security of the travel system and enhances our ability to detect and deter overstays, while also improving passenger processing. (This effort of exit control has been an on-going challenge – check back on reports regarding the I-94 which could transmit prints….)
• A key part of DHS immigration enforcement efforts has been strengthening enforcement against employers that hire undocumented immigrants. In 2009, ICE implemented a new worksite enforcement strategy focused on more effective auditing and investigations that prioritize the use of criminal prosecutions against employers that engage in fraud or abusive practices against their workers, use unauthorized workers as a business model, or participate in other criminal conduct. Since January 2009, ICE audited nearly 9,000 employers suspected of hiring undocumented workers, debarred 917 companies and individuals, and imposed more than $101 million in financial sanctions, which exceeds the total amount of audits and debarments during the entire previous administration.
(Some Questions to Sec. Napolitano on Border Security from the Hearing)
11:13am Sen. Flake (R-AZ) begins questions.
Q: Border security is a difficult term to define. The GAO has been quite complimentary of what’s happening in the Yuma sector of Arizona, but there are issues that the border patrol doesn’t have performance measures and goals to define border security.
A: The problem is how you define border security. One way to look at it if we have more money for enforcement, is it better to invest in employment verification system or to hire more border patrol agents. I think you can begin with the things listed in 2007 bill: apprehensions, crime rates along the border, drug and contraband seizures. The notion of a trigger implies that you don’t get to these other things until X is met, but we have to look at the simultaneously.
Q: I agree—we need people to have a legal way to come and go, only the path to citizenship would be tied to that. GAO reported in 2009 that in some sectors increased apprehensions as success, and in some decreased apprehensions as success. If directed by Congress can we go back to what we were doing prior to 2010 to “Operational Control?”
A: I would suggest that we should not go back. We cannot have a one or two line description of border security. We want a safe and secure border with efforts that can be sustained.
10:43am: Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) begins questions.
Q: this is like déjà vu for a lot of us. I believe the reason immigration reform failed in 2007 is because the American people don’t believe that Congress actually intends to follow through on enforcement measures. Did you say that “the border is secure.”
A: I did, but the context is that the border is more secure now than ever before and the numbers are better than they have been in decades. But we have to build and sustain that.
Q: Refers to a GAO Report that says that the Texas border is nowhere near operationally secure. I do not believe that the border is secure and we have a long way to go. A recent report signaled that you failed to apprehend 39% of border crossers, is that a good record?
A: We know that border security is important and that we’ve done more in the last four years to deter traffic over the border. The main driver of unauthorized crossings is the ability to work—all of these things go together, we need employment enforcement to drive down crossers. Other students have shown that net migration is negative.
So, what was Sen. Cornyn referring to about a GAO report that says the Texas border is nowhere near “operationally secure.” Of course, Secretary Napolitano tried to use the goal of “operational control” at one time as the holy grail of border security. (Refer to my 2011 blog entitled, “Immigration Enforcement and the Goal of Operational Control - Are Utah's new laws the answer?”). A more recent GAO report (GAO 13-25) entitled, “BORDER PATROL Key Elements of New Strategic Plan Not Yet in Place to Inform Border Security Status and Resource Needs,” provides new insight on the alleged number of illegal entries to the United States and the ability of the Border Patrol to interdict them.
It is important to recognize that the starting point for the number of illegal entries to the United States is always a guess at best. Thus, the goal of 100% interdiction will always be unachievable without this base number. Let’s see what the report tells us though. The report states that:
Border Patrol apprehensions and estimated known illegal entries
decreased significantly across all nine southwest border sectors from
fiscal years 2006 through 2011, as shown in figures 24 through 32.
Apprehensions decreased by 46 percent or more across all the southwest
border sectors. Over this same time period, the number of estimated
known illegal entries also decreased by 28 percent or more across all
southwest border sectors. Apprehensions as a percentage of estimated
known illegal entries increased for six sectors over this time period.
A “known” illegal entry is defined as:
Border Patrol’s estimate of known illegal entries includes the number of illegal entrants who were apprehended as well as estimates of the number of entrants who illegally crossed the border but were not apprehended (individuals who either crossed back to Mexico—turn backs—or continued traveling to the U.S. interior and who Border Patrol ceased pursuing—got aways). These data are collectively referred to as known illegal entries because Border Patrol officials have what they deem to be a reasonable indication that the cross-border activity occurred.
Thus, based on the Border Patrol’s best guess, it appears there is a 28% reduction in estimated known illegal entries. In determining the number of “known” illegal entries, the Border Patrol relies on cutting sign in the dirt, cameras, visual observation, and credible sources. In some cases, the illegal entrant turns back across the border or gets away. The report includes estimates of “turn backs” and “got aways.” As to “got aways” it appears that most of the data is based on sign cutting. (Take a look at the book Cutting for Sign by William Langewiesche). In 2011 along the Texas border, the smallest number of “got aways” was in the El Paso Border Patrol sector while the largest was in the Rio Grande valley and the Big Bend (around 30%). At the same time, the largest number of turn backs was in Rio Grande valley.
On the port of entry front according to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) FY 2012 statistics, over the last four years, CBP focused on reducing barriers for fast, efficient, and secure travel to and from the United States. In FY 2012, CBP officers inspected more than 350 million travelers. At air ports of entry alone, CBP officers processed more than 98 million international travelers, an increase of more than 4 percent from fiscal year 2011, and a 12 percent increase since fiscal year 2009. CBP also processed more than $2.3 trillion in trade— a 5 percent increase over FY 2011— while enforcing U.S. trade laws that protect the economy, health and safety of the American people. CBP processed nearly 25 million cargo containers through the nation's ports of entry, up about 4 percent from last year. In addition, CBP conducted nearly 23,000 seizures of goods that violate intellectual property rights, with a total retail value of $1.2 billion, representing a 14 percent increase in value over FY 2011.
So our ports of entry are addressing increasing levels of inspections while Border Patrol is seeing fewer attempts to enter the United States illegally. According to the Congressional Research Service report dated January 6, 2012 entitled, “Border Security: Immigration Enforcement Between the Ports of Entry,” by Marc R. Rosenblum, “the only significant decrease in unauthorized migration appears to have occurred since 2007, and it is unclear how much of the drop-off is due to increased enforcement and how much is a result of the U.S. economic downturn and other systemic factors.” Mr. Rosenblum concludes in part that,
…Deciding how to allocate border resources therefore requires a clear definition of the goals of, border security. Zero admissions of unauthorized migrants may not be a realistic goal when it comes to migration control, as noted above, and may be a higher standard than is expected of most law enforcement agencies. Indeed, with estimated illegal inflows at or below estimated outflows (i.e., with no new net illegal migration) and few people with serious criminal records being apprehended, some people might describe the border as already being secure with respect to illegal migration under current conditions.
It is obvious that we have struggled for decades to address the conundrum of what constitutes “Border Security.” Here along the U.S. /Mexico border, the goal has usurped our federal judicial system resources with such projects as Operation Streamline. We need to have the fortitude to walk, talk, and chew gum (as politely as possible) and join the goals of border security with true reform of our immigration system. The two have never been stove-piped. The live symbiotically and until we address the two as they co-exist – we will never be giving the goal of border security, which includes economic security and the protection of civil rights, a decent chance at success. It isn’t just the got aways…