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Candice Miller: border security bill may be key to immigration reform
A border security bill co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Candice Miller could serve as the linchpin to securing bipartisan support in the House and Senate for upcoming immigration reform legislation.
A Harrison Township Republican, Miller has joined with two Texans — House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul and Sen. John Cornyn — in pushing for new methods of measuring how secure our borders are with Mexico and Canada.
While many skeptical GOP lawmakers say they cannot back a new immigration law, particularly a path to citizenship for undocumented workers, until they see proof that the borders are secure, Miller continues her pursuit of reliable metrics — “hard, verifiable facts” — that could paint a comprehensive picture on border security.
“The (Obama) administration says the borders are more secure than ever. But, I want to know, based on what?” said Miller, chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security. “I … am starting to think this bill could be the component of border security that may move things forward on immigration reform.”
The new measure, which is very similar to a bill Miller authored last year, has picked up the support of two Homeland Security Committee Democrats, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the highest ranking Democratic member, and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas.
In 2011, a General Accounting Office report found that the borders were porous and management of security operations was weak, to the point that the Department of Homeland Security had little “operational control” over vast stretches of the U.S. boundaries. The administration responded by saying operational control was a bad measurement of border security and needed to be replaced with a different standard called the Border Control Index, or BCI. At a recent subcommittee hearing held by Miller, various officials stepped forward to say that BCI wouldn’t work either but Congress can be assured that border security is better than ever.
The new legislation would require DHS to establish “situational awareness,” a set of objective measurements on effectiveness and progress, within two years. An independent audit of border patrol efforts would be mandated.
To supplement the 700 miles of fence on the Southern border, Miller wants more high-tech surveillance and motion-detector devices, as well as unarmed drones in the skies — as long as they do not invade Americans’ privacy.
Cornyn, by introducing a Senate version of the bill, may play a key strategic role that was absent last year.
“This bill is basically my bill from the last Congress, which passed the House but never got a hearing in the Senate,” Miller said.
The congresswoman seeks a comprehensive approach that assures Capitol Hill that most illegal border-crossers are apprehended, and most drugs and other contraband interdicted.
Last year, lawmakers applauded the DHS for establishing its Northern Border Strategy.
That plan calls for an approach toward the 4,000-mile U.S.-Canadian border with an emphasis on preventing terrorism, drug smuggling, human trafficking and illegal immigration. It also advocates the efficient flow of lawful trade and travel.
In response to the scathing 2011 GAO report, the new strategy will work on improving partnerships with local and state law enforcement officials.
Officials concede that the Northern Border is penetrated by illegal immigrants, criminals trafficking humans, drug smugglers and cigarette smugglers. The DHS has said that illegal crossings by terrorists or those smuggling terrorist weapons is greater on the Canadian border than on the Southern border.