Politics & Policy

Securing America’s Borders

It's a national-security issue.

America needs secure borders. Right now, we don’t have them. Every day thousands of people violate our frontiers. We don’t know their identities and, quite often, we can’t stop them. As a nation of immigrants who honor the rule of law, we must secure our borders before we can reform our immigration policies.

That’s why I introduced the Securing America’s Borders Act Thursday night. The bill will take our first step towards a safer and more secure border. This new law will add resources to border protection; give our immigration-enforcement officials new legal tools; invest in barriers; and make it easier for employers ensure that they hire only citizens and legal residents. In short, it will make border security a key component of our national-security plans.

Enhanced border protection starts with additional people and equipment along our frontiers. While the Senate last year led an effort add new border-patrol agents to the President’s budget, a single action can’t solve a longstanding agent shortage. Over the next six years all told, my bill will add nearly 15,000 additional border protection professionals to augment the 20,000 Customs and Border Protection agents already on the job. To make sure that all CBP officers benefit from the best available technology, furthermore, my bill provides for new investments in aerial vehicles, cameras, and sensors. To give CBP’s work purpose, it will also establish a tough, thoughtful, and comprehensive national border-security strategy.

So that DHS officials can catch those who violate our borders, my bill will also enhance collection of biometric data about border crossers while creating tough new penalties for human smugglers, people who forge border-crossing documents, and those who involve themselves in sham marriages. Finally, terrorists and members of dangerous gangs will face expedited removal from the United States.

Prevention also matters. We can nip security challenges at the bud and save lives if we prevent people from breaking our immigration laws in the first place. Each year, many people die trying to cross our border. I’ve already asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the deaths along the border but I don’t believe we can wait for study results. Thus, my bill will also begin the process of building a 1,951-mile long virtual barrier across every inch of our border with Mexico. The new barrier will combine walls and fences in high-traffic areas with sensors to let CBP see and hear those who make a run for it in low traffic areas. Together, these measures should make the border safer and more secure.

Enforcing immigration laws with regard to those who enter the country, however, will only do so much to enhance our national security. Most of the people enter America illegally, after all, come here to work. Nearly everyone agrees that employers should have some responsibility for making sure their employees have legal clearance to take and keep their jobs. Right now, even the most well-intentioned employers lack a quick, efficient, foolproof way to verify the immigration status of the people they hire. Thus, my bill will expand an existing pilot program into a full-fledged electronic employer-verification database to help employers and workers alike.

While these proposals provide a good starting point, we still need to do more. Among other things, the full Senate will need to address ways we can balance security interests with our economy’s labor needs and the role National Guard units might play in border enforcement. In the long term, our government needs to work on policies that encourage democracy and prosperity abroad which will also address our immigration crisis by reducing the number of people who feel that coming to the United States is their only option.

We are a nation of immigrants and that heritage remains strong in our hearts. Every immigration- and border-related policy the Senate approves must contribute to our country’s security. Only a focus on security that emphasizes the rule of law will make our nation safer for all those who live here and who come here.

Bill Frist is the U.S. Senate Majority Leader.

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