Posted on May 11, 2011

Immigration Reform and Border Security: Obama’s Standards

Editors, Christian Science Monitor, May 10, 2011


In a speech today in El Paso, Texas, he [President Obama] suggested that the border with Mexico is secure enough for Congress to pass immigration reform. For those in the US illegally, that would mean a “pathway to citizenship,” as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano calls it. And the flow of new migrants could be contained by the tighter border security, the president implied.


Alas, despite the billions already spent, the 2,000-mile southern border is not secure. The General Accountability Office (GAO), the chief watchdog agency for Congress, has found less than half of it to be under operational control. With that news, and with Mr. Obama seeking Hispanic votes for his 2012 reelection, the president had decided to reframe the meaning of border security.

On May 4, Ms. Napolitano announced an effort to create a “border security index” by next year that would “comprehensively and systematically” measure the effects of law enforcement along the border with Mexico.


She declared the term “operational control” to be archaic while seeking to go beyond statistics such as apprehensions of illegal aliens or drug and cash seizures. Such statistics can fluctuate, depending on the state of the US economy as a magnet for border crossers (down, with high US joblessness) or the spillover of Mexico’s violent drug wars (up).

The proposed new metrics would tally up the quality of life along the border, such as crime levels, calls from hospitals to report illegal aliens, impacts on property values, and other economic measures.

The problem with such benchmarks is that they might deflect attention from adding resources to enforcement. And given the political impetus to win the Hispanic vote, it’s not at all clear whether the Obama administration will sustain enforcement efforts.

Sustainability of border security has yet to be proved. At present, there are only about two agents per mile (per shift) along the southern border.

Any further efforts must be coupled with catching “overstayers,” the 40 percent of illegal immigrants who obtained a temporary visa but remain undiscovered by authorities.

Obama has been too overtly political about immigration, seeking to appease one ethnic group (Latinos) rather than uniting the country behind adequate enforcement of immigration laws. {snip}

While Obama has also increased deportations of illegal immigrants (mainly those who commit other crimes), and cracked down on employers who hire them, the main task of a secure border has yet to show effective results and, most of all, to be long term. The GAO’s benchmarks should remain the standard.