Sen. John McCain, one of the chief authors of the Senate immigration bill, said Wednesday that the border is still not secure, and said he thinks U.S. Customs and Border Protection isn’t even patrolling it correctly.
Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, has been battling with the Obama administration for several years as he tries to force the Homeland Security Department to come up with ways to measure how secure the border is and what needs to be done to get it to 90 percent effectiveness.
“I have concluded that not only is the border unsafe, but it is patrolled ineffectively,” Mr. McCain said in a letter to new Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson. “Whether it be a lack of necessary equipment like night vision goggles, or a requirement to sit idle for hours at forward operating bases (FOBs) due to unnecessarily restrictive overtime rules, bureaucratic red tape and flawed administrative procedures prevent agents from maintaining border security.”
Mr. McCain, who was one of eight primary authors of the Senate immigration bill that would legalize illegal immigrants, spend billions of dollars on stiffer border security, and rewrite the legal immigration system, has been trying to pry border security information from the department for years.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano scrapped the previous definition of border security, which measured miles of the border under “operational control,” but she never approved a replacement yardstick.
That left Mr. McCain and members of both parties frustrated. They complained that the administration wanted them to pass an immigration bill without knowing the scope of the border problem, nor how to fix it.
After President Obama nominated Mr. Johnson to succeed Ms. Napolitano last year, Mr. McCain asked him if he would finally turn over the information. At his confirmation hearing, Mr. Johnson refused to give Mr. McCain that assurance.
On Wednesday, Mr. McCain said he’s still waiting. And he blamed Democrats for changing the rules and curtailing the use of filibusters, which Mr. McCain said removed a powerful tool senators have been able to use in the past to get information out of a reluctant administration.
“I’m deeply, deeply disappointed that you would not insist that I receive that fundamental information. And it will affect the degree of cooperation or the ability to work together,” Mr. McCain told Homeland Security Committee Chairman Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, at Wednesday’s hearing, which was called to hear from the man Mr. Obama has tapped to be the next inspector general at Homeland Security.
Mr. Carper said he believed Mr. Johnson and his aides will soon contact Mr. McCain “with an offer to discuss with you just how to go about providing that information.”
Peter Boogaard, spokesman for Homeland Security, said the department will respond directly to Mr. McCain but said they have already made huge strides in adding manpower and technology to the border.
“In FY 2012, CBP employed over 21,300 Border Patrol agents, keeping staffing levels along the border at an all-time high. Additionally, CBP continues to deploy proven, effective surveillance technology tailored to the operational requirements along the highest trafficked areas of the southwest border,” Mr. Boogaard said.
He pointed to violent crime levels, which have remained static or dropped, and to apprehension numbers, as proof their strategy is working.
The Border Patrol caught 40 percent fewer illegal immigrants in 2013 than it did in 2008. Administration officials have argued that if they catch fewer people, that’s a signal that fewer people are trying to cross.
However, apprehensions have risen 27 percent in the last two years, including a 16 percent leap in 2013 alone, according to statistics provided by Mr. McCain’s office. He said by the administration’s logic, that means the border became less secure during that time.
According to the totals, the Border Patrol apprehended 414,397 illegal immigrants on the southwest border in fiscal year 2013, which was up from 356,873 the year before. Marijuana and heroin seizures were up, while cocaine seizures dropped 35 percent.