Border security trigger called for in Senate's immigration plan

January 29, 2013|By JULIO MORALES | Staff Writer, Copy Editor

President Obama on Tuesday unveiled his guiding principles for Congress to consider when they take up immigration reform in the coming months.

Obama’s much-anticipated speech comes a day after a group of key Senate leaders unveiled a bipartisan immigration reform plan of their own.

During Tuesday’s speech in Las Vegas, Obama said that enough of a “broad consensus” has emerged to draft and approve “commonsense,” comprehensive immigration legislation.

“Now is the time,” Obama said.

Both the president’s and the Senate’s plans call for enhanced border security, a pathway to citizenship for the country’s 11 million illegal immigrants, streamlining the immigration system and stiffening penalties for employers who hire undocumented foreign workers.

Yet key differences also exist. Under the Senate plan, illegal immigrants would be granted “probationary legal status,” but not be allowed to apply for permanent residency until the border is deemed secure.

The Senate plan calls for a group of border-state governors, attorney generals and community leaders to monitor the Southwest border and ensure that explicit security measures have been met before immigrants can seek citizenship. Obama opposes such a provision.

Details about the conditions and measures to be used in determining the border’s security would be determined in future negotiations, various media outlets have reported.

Having regional border officials provide input to help shape federal policy makes sense, said Erik Lee, associate director of the North American Center for Transborder Studies at Arizona State University.

The center has a history of working with Southwest attorneys general and governors on border-related issues. These officials are often better attuned to what is occurring on the border than federal officials in Washington, D.C., he said.

“It’s an excellent idea to have the input of folks living in the border region,” Lee said. “The more local and regional input in the process of evaluation, the better.”

In an attempt to objectively measure border security, researchers looked at immigrant and illegal contraband apprehensions, incidents of terror-related activity and crime statistics from both sides of the border, according to an August 2012 report co-authored by NACTS.

Within each field of inquiry, researchers discovered varying factors that may be contributing to past and present trends, Lee said.

“It’s quite difficult to measure border security effectively,” Lee said.

Currently, the U.S. Border Patrol is also actively working to develop performance measures that will indicate a measureable level of border security, said El Centro Sector Border Patrol Public Information Officer Salvador Alvarez.

Since fiscal year 2008, immigrant apprehensions are down 53 percent, and they are down nearly 80 percent since their peak in 2000, according to information provided by the Department of Homeland Security.

However, using total apprehensions as a measurement of border security “does not inform program results and therefore limits DHS and congressional oversight and accountability,” a Government Accountability Office memo stated in December.

The GAO has asked that the Border Patrol identify “milestones and time frames for developing and implementing performance goals and measures,” which the agency has not done to date, the memo stated.   

Considering the number of illegal immigrants whose legal status hangs in the balance under the senators’ proposal, a clear definition of what constitutes border security is needed, said Maureen Meyer, an expert on Mexican border issues with the Washington Office of Latin America.

If such a provision were to be incorporated into immigration legislation, the makeup and responsibilities of the border commission would also need to be clearly defined.

“It’s a new element that needs to be scrutinized,” Meyer said.

Staff Writer, Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-337-3415 or at


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