What Is a Secure Border? Politicians Shaping Our Immigration Reform Bill Still Don't Know

Even though our border is, by all measurements of the word, more secure today than it has been in the past four decades, politicians still argue that it isn't secure enough.

A new study postulates that there is no such thing as a "secure" border, because the definition of what that means has yet to be established, which seems like an import task now that immigration reform bill has passed the Senate and lies before the U.S. Congress.

See also: Brewer Not Fan of Immigration Bill Unless Border Is Secure; Can't Define "Secure" Guns, Drones, But What Was the Most Important Thing at the Border Security Expo? "There may never be 100 percent agreement on whether the border is 'secure,'" the Morrison Institute study says, "But if reform is going to pass and succeed, political leaders must lead on defining standards for border security that are realistic -- both in terms of how success is gauged and what actually can be achieved on a 1,969 mile long border."

The study, titled "Defining Border Security in Immigration Reform," says that political ambiguity in legislation like the immigration reform bill leads to speculation. And that those who would like to see undocumented immigrants remain that way, could abuse vagueness of the word to stave off the "triggers" that need to be met in order for citizenship to be granted.

Before immigrants get a chance at a 13-year path to citizenship, certain triggers have to be met, all of which are supposed to lead to less illegal traffic.

Legislatures have said they want a 90 percent effectiveness rate along the border (meaning their estimated success of stopping border crossings) and that they want "persistent surveillance."

But even calculating effectiveness is subjective, says Mike Slaven, the study's author. Border Patrol practices like guessing how many immigrants evaded authorities by "cutting track," which is essentially noticing backpacks and items that seem fresh left on trails, are not scientific.

Even then, the immigration reform only sets a 90 percent secure border as a goal. The real trigger has to do with money and boots on the ground.

The legislation instead establishes "resource levels as the primary triggers to proceed with legalization," according to the study.

A few of the demands to be met before immigrants obtain citizenship are: the Southern Border Security Strategy must be operational, 700 miles of fencing erected, and deployment of at least 38, 405 full-time Border Patrol agents -- nearly twice as many as current numbers. This along with infrared gadgets from defense suppliers, cameras that can see for miles, and all the manpower, will cost at least $46.3 billion.

Basically, the legal fate of 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. doesn't depend on how secure the border is, it rests on how many people are patrolling it and how much money we've spent.

Slaven points out that it might not matter how much money we throw at the border, because he's not sure -- nor is anyone -- what effect increased manpower or costly gizmos have on deterring illegal immigration, because there is no research to prove it.

"A lot of the time the discussion has been, 'Well, the government has failed to secure the border,'' Slaven says. "That begins with the concept that anyone who gets through without authorization is because the government hasn't tried hard enough to stop them."

But Slaven says the real problem is deep economic reasons between sending countries and the U.S., and he's not sure any amount of money will solve the immigration issue. As long as politicians fail to look at immigration holistically, they'll continue to discuss the border in sound bytes, like "spillover violence."

The report mentions an anecdotal incident of violence that caused the whole nation to twitch in a spillover panic.

When Arizona rancher Robert Krentz was found murdered on his land, republican politicians in the state and around the nation depicted Arizona as a lawless landscape, where cartels built hills of bodies in the desert.

Jan Brewer used the opportunity to claim authorities found headless bodies decapitated by the cartel (which was a lie).

This type of hyperbole is partly why politicians charged with creating legislation to reform the problem are, and will continue to be, part of the problem.

"Because defining security is inherently subjective, no one should expect debate on whether the border is secure to end any time soon," the report notes. "The political goal for immigration reform should be more modest: a practical commitment on how -- right now and for the purposes of this bill moving forward -- 'secure enough' can be defined."

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