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Suzy Khimm: Nearly All Border Security Targets from 2007 Immigration Bill Have Been Hit

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This week, eight Senators unveiled their plans for immigration reform, and one thing noticed by many advocates was the continued emphasis on border security. For many, it’s a replay of the 2007 debate, which was mostly focused on border security and immigration enforcement. As Suzy Khimm at the Washington Post notes, while the 2007 bill didn’t pass, its border security provisions have still largely been implemented:

Under the Senate’s new blueprint for reform, the legalization of undocumented immigrants would only happen if the government “finally commit[s] the resources needed to secure the border,” as well as strict visa enforcement for legal immigrants. It’s a provision that’s similar to Bush’s 2007 immigration bill, which also made legalization contingent on beefed-up border security.

The Senate’s language suggests that the government has held back from devoting money, equipment and personnel to border security. In fact, even though the 2007 immigration bill ultimately failed, we’ve nevertheless hit nearly all of the targets that it established for increased border security—except for achieving absolute “operational control” of the border and mandatory detention of all border-crossers who’ve been apprehended.

Got that? Despite the protestations of conservatives and border hawks, the border is more secure than it’s ever been, period. Khimm outlines point-by-point the key 2007 demands and how they’ve been reached. And that’s why advocates are ready to move on from a debate focused on enforcement/border security:

Pro-immigration advocates believe that all this is proof that we’ve already done enough on the border security front. “The border security issue is, at this point, 90 to 95 percent solved,” says Frank Sharry, head of America’s Voice.

Recent spending on border security has been vast. That was the focus of a recent report from the Migration Policy Institute,  “Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery,” finding that the US currently spends more on immigration enforcement than it does on all other criminal law enforcement agencies combined. We’ve written about this report several times and, obviously, we saw this week that it bears repeating. From MPI’s press release:

The U.S. government spends more on federal immigration enforcement than on all other principal federal criminal law enforcement agencies combined, with the nearly $18 billion spent in fiscal 2012 approximately 24 percent higher than collective spending for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals Service and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a new Migration Policy Institute (MPI) report finds.

The nation’s main immigration enforcement agencies, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), refer more cases for federal prosecution than all Justice Department law enforcement agencies.

And a larger number of individuals are detained each year in the immigration detention system (just under 430,000 in fiscal 2011) than are serving sentences in federal Bureau of Prisons facilities for all other federal crimes.

Added Doris Meissner, a senior director and fellow at the Migration Policy Institute:

Changes to the immigration system over recent decades have focused almost entirely on building enforcement programs and improving their performance. Yet even with record-setting expenditures and the full use of statutory and administrative tools, enforcement alone, no matter how well administered, is insufficient to answer the broad challenges that immigration poses for America’s future,” said Meissner, who directs MPI’s U.S. Immigration Policy program and served as commissioner of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service during the 1990s. “Successive Congresses and administrations have accomplished what proponents of ‘enforcement first’ sought as a precondition for reform of the nation’s immigration policies.

Even John McCain, who worked on the 2007 bill (but ran the infamous “complete the danged fence” ad back in 2010), acknowledged how far the border has come:

Sen. John McCain said Tuesday that the improving situation on the country’s southwestern border has been critical to making immigration reform possible — and that Republicans will demand additional enforcement alongside reform measures such as a pathway to citizenship.

“There has been real improvements in border security,” McCain told reporters in the Capitol. Asked if that helps the politics of reform, he said, “Sure. I think it helps a lot.” He argued that the situation has considerably improved “over the last five, six years” and called some of the concerns “over-hyped.”

The border and and the false idea that it needs to be ever better secured is over-hyped and over-politicized.  It would be great if everyone on Capitol Hill would read Suzy Khimm’s column and the MPI report. We’ve spent years hashing out the border security debate — now we need to recognize that the goals have been met, and move on. The border is as secure as can be. Now it’s time to move beyond the border security talking points championed by the likes of Jan Brewer, and onto a real, straightforward path to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans here in the US. In 2013, that’s the part Congress needs to fix.

Addendum: check out these charts illustrating just how beefed up Border Security has become: