Opponents of the US Senate's sweeping border control and immigration bill criticized the proposal during a July 23 hearing of a House panel. (US Customs and Border Protection)
The US Senate’s version of a sweeping border control and immigration bill came in for some intense criticism at a hearing on Tuesday from House members, former government officials, and even a moonlighting member of the Senate.
Speaking before the House panel, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, one of the Hill’s most active proponents for border security reform, offered a full-throated condemnation of the Senate’s $46 billion immigration bill during a July 23 session of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.
Cornyn said the upper chamber’s bill “could go down as one of the most massive wastes of funds in the history of the federal government” since it “blindly throws more than $46 billion in resources at the border, and contains absolutely no mechanism to ensure that these resources will be effective or properly implemented.”
The Senate’s Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act passed with a bipartisan vote in June. It called for about $40 billion in new funding for the Department of Homeland Security to hire 18,000 new border patrol agents — doubling the boots on the ground from the current 21,000 agents — while the remainder of the money would pay for finishing a 700-mile long border fence, more surveillance technologies arrayed along the border with Mexico, and new immigration processing systems.
Cornyn slammed other provisions in the bill that that would “require DHS to blindly purchase billions of dollars of specific equipment” for surveillance without including any mechanism for measuring if the technology was effective in slowing the flow of people, drugs, and counterfeit items across the southern border.
The Senate bill calls for four more drones on top of the 10 that the CBP already flies, 30 marine vessels, 17 more Huey helicopters, 10 converted and five new Black Hawk helicopters, and hundreds of ground sensors, and fixed and mobile surveillance systems.
The DHS’s last real attempt to gain more control over the border failed when the Secure Border Initiative plan was canceled in 2011 after spending $1 billion on cameras and sensors that proved too costly to purchase and maintain. The department is now working on a follow-on technology program worth about $1.1 billion that is expected to be awarded sometime this fall.
After trashing the Senate’s take on legislating border security, Cornyn lauded the House’s Border Security Results Act of 2013, which includes provisions for a set of independently verified border security metrics that would allow congressional overseers to measure progress in obtaining the elusive goal of “operational control” over the border.
Cornyn took his trip to the other side of Capitol Hill after his own proposed amendment to the Senate’s bill was voted down last month. His amendment was similar to what is offered in the House bill, calling for a 90 percent apprehension rate on the border along with other law enforcement measures before other parts of the bill — most significantly, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants — could begin to take effect.
Testifying before the committee, former Acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection and Assistant Commissioner for Field Operations Jayson Ahern also assailed the Senate’s desire to hire 18,000 new agents.
Before bringing new people on he said, “a more prudent first step would be to evaluate how the current deployment of personnel is being utilized, and determine ... how to reassign agents to where the threat has moved versus what appears to be arbitrary increases.”
Specifically, as the threat of smuggling moves from land to the sea, the government needs to consider how many agents it has that can operate in the maritime environment, and how many are trained to fly drones he said.
Rep. Candice Miller, R–Mich., chairwoman of the committee also pulled few punches when assessing the Senate bill, saying in her opening statement that “doubling the Border Patrol and tearing down hundreds of miles of fence just to rebuild it appears tough until you look deeper and ask the tough questions: Did the chief of the Border Patrol say that’s what they needed to get the job done, or did senators come up with those nice round numbers to get additional votes?”