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What Does A Secure Border Look Like? Congress Debates

Michel Marizco

Border security is a critical part of comprehensive immigration reform, but a congressional hearing on Tuesday made it clear that there’s disagreement over what a secure border looks like. 

Since 9/11 he number of border agents has doubled on the southern border, 700 miles of fence was built and new technologies have been deployed like surveillance cameras and unmanned drones.

"Instead of discussing entirely how we’ve just grown the Border Patrol, the CPB, the Coast Guard, or the different types of technologies that we’ve put on the border, I want to examine what the American people have gotten for the investment that we have made," said Rep. Candice Miller, R-Michigan.

Miller chaired the Homeland Security Border and Maritime Subcommittee hearing and dismissed Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s pronouncement that the border is more secure than ever.  

"That is not a substitute for hard verifiable facts," said Miller.

Miller and other committee members like Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, are pushing for a new metric to measure border security called the Border Condition Index. However, Thompson said the nation needs to face the fact that the border can never be 100 percent secure.

Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-South Carolina, urged the committee to move away from statistics about the border and focus on the safety of people who live in the area around southern U.S. border.

"Until ranchers in Arizona -- who live along the border -- until they feel safe enough for them to leave their home and leave their children to go into town and buy a gallon of milk or whatever they need and come back,  the border isn’t secure," said Duncan.

But Congressman Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, quoted a new Government Accountability Office report that said the southern border is secure and is the safest segment of the nation.

"If you look at the border on whole from Brownsville to Laredo, all the way to San Diego -- and you compare it to the rest of the U.S. -- we are safer than the country on whole and I would argue that the rancher going to get his milk in Arizona is far safer than the single mom leaving her apartment in Washington D.C., Detroit or New Orleans," O'Rourke said.

O’Rourke pushed forward the facts that with record deportations, record low apprehensions, the record money spent and the doubling of the Border Patrol force - the border is more secure than it’s ever been.

But it may still not be secure enough to satisfy the majority in Congress.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi