The Corner

How Do We Measure Border Security?

How do we measure the security of our southern border? The answer is more controversial than you might think. 

The security provisions in the Gang of Eight’s immigration bill, which were intended to serve as a selling point for skeptical GOP lawmakers, require that would-be illegal immigrants are apprehended at a 90 percent rate in certain high-risk border areas — otherise, in five years, a commission of federal and border-state officials would be created to take over the making of border-security policy. Determining whether that goal is met requires, for one, an accurate assessment of how many people are actually crossing the border.

In a hearing yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Ted Cruz pressed homeland-security secretary Janet Napolitano about how the government will determine that, as well as how it currently gauges the security of the border.  

“We look at a number of things,” Napolitano told Cruz, citing apprehensions, crime rates, and reports from law-enforcement officials. “It’s a whole host of things,” she continued, “and one of the things we’re really looking for, Senator, is, what’s the trend? Is the trend pretty much all in a positive direction, meaning the border is more secure, or not? And so, when we look at all of those things, then we can also make decisions about where we need to put even more resources.” 

Cruz suggested that this holistic approach renders the security triggers contained in the bill meaningless. “It seems to me that if border security is to be measured by an amorphous, multi-factored, subjective test that this committee knows to a metaphysical certainty that DHS will conclude border security is satisfied,” he argued. ”And if a trigger is certain to occur, then I would suggest that it is not a meaningful trigger that is measuring anything.” 

In fact, the standard of measurement may be even more nebulous than the one Napolitano described.

When DHS did away with the concept of “operational control” previously used to measure border security, it was supposed to develop a replacement, the “Border Condition Index.”  At a House hearing last month, a DHS official said that the index will not actually measure border security, but rather demonstrate “what the trends are.”

That will not be enough to placate skeptics such as Cruz. “We must have a clear definition of what metrics must be reached in order for the border to be secure,” he said after yesterday’s discussion. “I am not satisfied with answers offered at today’s hearing, as it remains unclear how the provisions in this bill will help achieve a secure border.”

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