- - Thursday, October 24, 2013


The issue of border security is back, and is being unscrupulously tossed about like a single bone among a pack of wolves. Now that the unpleasant interruption over the government shutdown is past, far-reaching immigration legislation totaling about 1,500 pages and containing nearly polar-opposite intent are vying for attention in Congress.

Whoever offers the border-security bone considered the tastiest to certain special interests and onlookers may well be crowned the winner of both reform and security, a double win to many. How “tasty” is defined, however, has remained subject to what the special interests want elsewhere in the legislation. What is missing is an objective analysis that answers basics and builds from those answers.

Much of the pending language misses the basics. Border security is barely, if at all, defined. Goals are left ambiguous and years in the future. Resources are ambiguous. Only plans, not action, in most instances, are required. Does such vague language solve anything? At base, do we need tighter border security, or not? The answer is yes, but a nuanced yes. Specifically, we need more efficient and cost-effective measures that identify those who seek to do us harm and keep them out or apprehend them. This can be achieved by first defining a secure border, then by creating a secure-border system and, lastly, by putting measures in place to determine success.

A secure border should be capable of blocking those who pose a threat or attempt illegal entry via visas, ports of entry or immigration-benefit processing. That’s in addition to the interdiction work of our 20,000 Border Patrol agents mustered among the ports of entry. It is essential to ensure that visitors are who they say they are and abide by the terms of their entry.

Creating secure borders requires Congress to support a balance of resources, including infrastructure, personnel, technology, law and policy. Specifically, we must:

Maintain and expand visa investigations to prevent those with nefarious intentions from entering.

Install where feasible fencing across the Southern border that can’t be stepped over, cut, tunneled under or ramped over.

Use technology to achieve 100 percent detection and enable safer, more efficient operations without increasing Border Patrol numbers, while also providing a baseline to measure success.

Provide sufficient personnel, infrastructure and technology improvements to decaying land ports of entry to facilitate trade and tourism, secure against illicit entry, and know who is coming and going without the hours-long waiting times that often exist today.

Deploy cost-effective, feasible biometrics at airports and seaports of entry to ensure that holders of expired visas depart on time.

Empower states and localities to support federal immigration enforcement while enabling local immigration agents to retain the authorities proscribed by the Obama administration’s invocation of “prosecutorial discretion” that effectively neutralizes immigration enforcement.

Remedy inadequate review of immigration-benefit applications and reward proper vetting by immigration officials in the field.

Support and expand the current E-Verify system, the worker-authorization program.

All of these measures can be achieved today. The technology is available, much of the law is already in place, and funding for measures of cost can be derived for exit, for example, with small increases in visa and travel-document fees. In addition, Congress must exercise its authority in measuring success. The Senate-passed immigration bill allows the Department of Homeland Security to exercise discretion or grant waivers in more than 200 types of immigration cases, enabling the department — not Congress — to measure success.

The 9/11 Commission correctly concluded that border security is essential to national security. According to the Terrorist Screening Center, 98 percent of the approximately 550,000 individuals on the terrorist watch list are foreign-born. About 20,000 of these are U.S. residents. In addition, every major U.S. city is heavily infiltrated by violent drug cartels.

Illegal-entry numbers have increased substantially since the administration has taken office. Internal Department of Homeland Security documents produced daily by the Border Patrol make clear that as of April 2, southwest apprehensions across nine Border Patrol sectors rose during comparable time frames in both 2011 and 2012. More specifically, apprehensions showed a 13 percent increase between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2103 (from 170,223 to 192,298), and a 16 percent annual increase between fiscal 2011 and fiscal 2013 (from 165, 244 to 192,298). These numbers show that while the Canadian border was able to buttress a claim that apprehension numbers are lower, the southwest border’s illicit and violent entries have been on the rise for the past few years.

We need more border security, but mostly, we need better border security. There is really no true immigration reform without truly improving border security. That has not changed, and it won’t, until Congress gets it right.

Janice Kephart is a former special counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former border counsel to the 9/11 Commission.

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