Nation demands credible border security

Jul 9, 2013 Issues: Defense and Homeland Security

The U.S. Senate recently approved legislation described by its advocates as comprehensive immigration reform. Those same advocates also urged rapid adoption by the U.S. House.

As was widely reported (including a front page story in The Detroit News on July 1) that is unlikely to happen. And for good reason.

Put simply, the Senate’s proposed reform fails to adequately deliver on the long-promised, never-achieved assurance that as a first step in any comprehensive reform we will secure our nation’s borders.

Despite amendments calling for the hiring (and massive expense) of 20,000 new border agents, additional fencing and the deployment of technology (e.g. cameras and drones), the Senate bill does not provide the one ingredient which could restore the American people’s confidence that their government has achieved control over who and what may legally enter the country.

That ingredient is a system of accountability and verification, based on rigorous, specific and attainable goals backed by independent analysis.

Fortunately, I and my colleagues in the House have been working on this issue for several years, and we believe legislation developed here can be the basis for resolving it.

The Border Results and Security Strategy Act of 2013 (H.R.1417), recently adopted by the House Homeland Security Committee on which I serve as vice chairwoman, would require the Department of Homeland Security to establish verifiable metrics to measure the effectiveness of our interdiction efforts, and confirm that we have achieved a 90 percent level of operational control (i.e., thwarting the overwhelming majority of illegal human trafficking and significant decrease in drugs and weapons trafficking) on our borders.

These metrics, developed in consultation with academic experts from the national laboratories and reviewed by the Government Accounting Office, would give us, for the first time, a reliable picture of what is happening at our borders.

Doing so would allow us to focus and tailor our resources where they are most needed and can be the most effective.

The House, unlike the Senate, also would require the Department to develop similar measures for ports-of-entry and maritime borders (based on the sensible premise that restricting the flow of trafficking in one area will increase pressure on others).

The Border Results and Security Strategy Act would also include, unlike its Senate counterpart, specific timetables for implementation and mandatory progress reports to Congress.

Administration officials in the past have resisted efforts to establish verifiable standards for border control, insisting that existing measurements (which almost uniformly paint an abysmal picture) were inexact and inadequate.

Their attitude could be summed up in two words: Trust Us. I’m sorry; we don’t. On matters of national security — which surely includes establishing control of our borders — we’re with Ronald Reagan: Trust but verify.

Additional resources for border control agents, fencing and technology may well be necessary. But we can’t know with certainty until we know what is really happening on our borders now.

The Senate legislation takes the all-too-familiar Washington approach of throwing money — lots of it — at a problem in the hope that, paraphrasing Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden, we will mistake activity for achievement.

As an aside, packing the 1,200 page bill with special carve-outs for favored industries and interest groups — Alaskan fish processors and Nevada casinos among them - does little to inspire confidence in the finished product.

Fixing our broken immigration system is a laudable goal. Legal immigration has contributed greatly to our country’s growth into the world’s preeminent power.

Reforming the system is doable, but not without giving those here legally — the citizens we work for — a much higher level of confidence that we’re serious about controlling our own immigration destiny.

Comprehensive immigration reform is a heavy lift. Without credible border security it is virtually impossible. I believe the Border Results and Security Strategy Act provides that much-needed credibility.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, represents Michigan’s 10th Congressional District.