Two-thirds of senators to vote on U.S.-Mexico border without having seen it

Those who have call it a learning experience

Border security is a key sticking point in this year’s immigration debate, but only a little more than one-third of senators have been to the southwestern border during their time in office to get a firsthand look at the security situation, according to a survey of the chamber’s members by The Washington Times.

Of 100 senators, 34 said they have been down to observe the border, 64 senators have not, and two — the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which is writing the bill, and the chamber’s Republican leader — refused to answer.

SPECIAL COVERAGE: Immigration Reform

Those on all sides of the immigration debate agree that chances for passing a bill legalizing illegal immigrants and overhauling the legal system hinges on whether voters think the border is secure.

President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet A. Napolitano have said the border is secure and that the only way to improve it is to legalize illegal immigrants, which they argue will help authorities focus on illegal crossings and major criminals.

But lawmakers journeying to the border to see for themselves often come back with a different impression.

“It doesn’t help when you have the Department of Homeland Security secretary testifying that the border is already secure, and yet you have senators returning from weekend visits to the border as recently as this weekend and telling us that they personally witness people crossing, including people from as far away as Afghanistan,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who made a high-profile visit to the El Paso, Texas, segment of the border this year.

“There is a real concern about those things and we’ve got to address that. If we can address that, we will have immigration reform. If we cannot, this will be another failed effort,” he said.

Those who have been to the border say they have seen both successes and challenges — and in many instances have shared their findings with the public through messages or photos on social media.

SEE ALSO: Border Patrol: Rules hinder effort to oust drug spotters

In one incident, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, was showing colleagues the border in March when they saw a woman climb over a border barrier right in front of them.

“Just witnessed a woman successfully climb an 18-ft bollard fence a few yards from us in #Nogales,” Mr. McCain tweeted. “Border Patrol successfully apprehended her, but incident is another reminder that threats to our border security are real.”

‘Better understand the situation’

The border begins at the Gulf of Mexico and runs 1,951 miles to the Pacific Ocean, along the way tracking rivers, cutting through ecologically fragile deserts and going over rugged mountains.

Border communities say they have seen dramatic changes over the past two decades as illegal immigration surged, then began to drop as first the Bush administration and now the Obama administration have boosted patrols and added technology.

Those who go come back with stories both good and bad.

Ranches that have been owned by the same family for five or six generations are struggling to survive, and some national parks along the border have been overrun by illegal activity and law enforcement. But the border also generates billions of dollars of commerce a day and is home to some of the safest communities in the U.S. in terms of crime rates.

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