America’s immigration debate has become red hot because President Obama’s critics not only believe that he lacks the authority to act without the consent of Congress, but also that he must not change internal enforcement priorities before first “securing the border.”
The truth is, the single most important thing Congress can do to meaningfully improve our border security is pass comprehensive immigration reform.
Too often, border security is viewed as preventing the illegal entry of people and goods across state lines. However, border security also is about ensuring the safe, efficient flow of commerce and increasing international trade. Comprehensive reform will do both, while our current approach serves neither objective.
I say this as someone who has made countless trips to the U.S.-Mexico border. I’ve seen firsthand how our current approach to policing the border is based on muddled objectives and unmeasurable benchmarks that mask failure.
Our failure to secure the border is not for a lack of trying. Congress has passed at least four laws since 1986 authorizing increases in Border Patrol personnel. In 1980, there were 2,268 Border Patrol agents at the southwest border; under President Obama, that number grew to an all-time high of 21,730. There was 14 miles of fencing on the border in 1990; under this administration, we’ve erected nearly 651 miles of new fencing and dramatically increased our mobile surveillance capabilities.
Yet there is scant evidence that we can spend our way out of this problem.