A group of top congressional Republicans introduced a bill Tuesday that would require the Homeland Security Department to come up with a way to measure how secure the borders are — at a time when the Obama administration has been resisting those efforts.
The bill would require the administration to develop a strategy to secure the border within the first six months, give the federal government another two years to gain control of the border, and require it to submit to validation by an independent think tank.
It is being sponsored by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael T. McCaul, border security subcommittee Chairman Candice S. Miller and Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who is a senior member of the upper chamber.
“Until Congress mandates the creation of a national strategy, the administration will continue to say the border is secure while America’s back door remains wide open,” Mr. McCaul said.
Though none of the sponsors is part of the informal House or Senate talks to strike an immigration deal, the bill appears to be written as if it could become the border security “trigger” in any deal. Under a trigger, the border security conditions would have to be met in order for illegal immigrants to be put on a pathway to citizenship — though they would still gain legal status and work permits even before the borders were secure.
Part of the problem with the trigger idea is that nobody agrees on what a secure border is.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano argues the border is more secure now than it’s ever been, and she says the only way to make it safer is to legalize illegal immigrants and rewrite the system so future workers can come legally.
But many border-state lawmakers — particularly those in Texas — insist that the border is not yet secure. They point to the simmering drug cartel war in northern Mexico as a sign of trouble.
The Homeland Security Department scrapped the old definition of border security, known as “operational control,” in 2010, at a time when it was only meeting that standard along a fraction of the 2,000-mile-long border.
The department had promised a new definition by 2012, but none has been released yet and top officials said there isn’t one coming in the near future.
Last week, The Los Angeles Times reported that a new drone program tracked would-be illegal crossers and found that the Border Patrol was apprehending far fewer crossers than it had thought.
In January, Congress’ chief auditors released a report finding that the Border Patrol believed it was apprehending a little more than 60 percent of those illegally crossing the border. But last week’s news report said agents apprehended less than half of those believed to be crossing.