Updated April 9, 12:30 p.m.:
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, talked Tuesday about the need for more drones and other technology to help secure the U.S.-Mexico border, and they said strict deadlines should be in place for the Department of Homeland Security to reach such goals.
Cornyn and McCaul discussed the points on the day they filed the federal Border Security Results Act of 2013.
The Republican lawmakers said the bill spotlights holes in border security that must be addressed during the current immigration reform debate. During a conference call with reporters, however, they also said they are not attempting to slow down progress on that reform or tell the department how to do its job, but rather inform members about border security as the debate moves forward.
“What we want to do is not make the same mistakes we did in 1986 when we passed immigration reform and did not enforce the border security provisions,” McCaul said. “What this bill essentially does is, as we proceed forward on any debate on immigration reform, [ensure] that we keep in mind that we first and foremost get that operation control that’s necessary so that we’re not having the same discussion 15 years from now.”
The bill requires that DHS, after 60 days of the bill’s adoption and every 180 days thereafter, submit a detailed report that describes how much “operational control” federal agents have on the border. It also mandates that the agency submit within four months a plan to the appropriate committees to maintain control over “high trafficking” areas, which requires consideration of not only expanding drone use, but also nonintrusive detection equipment, radiation portals and fingerprint readers at ports of entry. The bill also requires DHS to formulate a plan to reduce waits at the nation’s ports of entry by 50 percent.
Cornyn added that the bill addressed the same concerns the so-called Gang of Eight, a bipartisan group of senators drafting an immigration reform bill, have voiced on border security.
“I think rather than in haste we want to get it right and I think that’s important from a public confidence standpoint that we not see a bill jammed through that is not adequately thought out,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, was quick to issue a rebuke of the measure.
“I’m hopeful that this bill is a good-faith effort to move forward and not an attempt to build another wall between immigrants and the American dream,” he said in a statement. “Voters made it clear in November that Congress must act on real immigration reform now — and not a sham packaged as progress. Small businesses, chambers, and families across our state are counting on it. Reducing border wait times is something for which businesses and border lawmakers have long advocated. I’m glad our senior senator is now onboard.”
Doubling down on their vows to focus on border security before considering immigration reform, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, will file legislation on Tuesday that will further scrutinize how well the federal government protects the U.S.-Mexico border.
A Cornyn aide said the Border Security Results Act will “lay down a marker for what must be done on the border security front before we can reform our broken immigration system.”
Cornyn currently serves as the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee, and McCaul is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
The legislation will be introduced as a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight purportedly moves closer to introducing a bill to overhaul the country’s immigration system. Republicans and Democrats, including President Obama, have argued that the border needs to be secure before reform can be passed. But discussions on how that end is achieved — and how success is measured — have been contentious.
Cornyn and McCaul's border security bill will require the Department of Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection, to readopt the metrics by which they determine if a portion of the border is under “operational control.”
Under operational control, illegal crossers are either detected, deterred or apprehended at the border or within 100 miles of the border. A 2011 Government Accountability Office study found that about 875 miles of the 2,000-mile southern border were under operational control.
Cornyn’s office said DHS in 2010 stopped the metric “operational control” to gauge border security and has not replaced it, leaving nothing in place to evaluate the agency’s progress.
Cornyn and McCaul's bill will also require federal agents on the border to set a 90 percent apprehension rate goal for people who enter the country without inspection, and set a 50 percent reduction in wait times at the nation’s ports as the standard. The bill will also require DHS to attain “full situational awareness of our borders through technology, manpower and results-based metrics,” the aide said.
Proponents of immigration reform, including several Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups, cite recent apprehension data as proof that the border is more secure than it has been. Apprehensions have fallen to record lows, which DHS said indicates that fewer people are attempting to enter the country illegally. And a recent report by the Migration Policy Institute estimates that in fiscal year 2012, the federal government spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement efforts, about 24 percent more than it spent in combined funding for the FBI, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshal's Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Firearms and Explosives.
Cornyn is not convinced. Last week during DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s visit to Texas, Cornyn released a hard-line statement.
“Recent news reports noting wide gaps in security along the U.S.-Mexico border and scores of individuals crossing into the U.S. illegally continue to fly in the face of the Obama administration’s insistence that our border is secure,” he said in a statement.
“Texans — and all Americans — would appreciate a healthy dose of reality from Secretary Napolitano.”
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.