Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced last month that our “southwest border is “open for business,”1 continuing the border security doublespeak that DHS has been dishing up on Barack Obama’s watch. News reports questioning whether Border Patrol policy is to arrest illegals raise questions about enforcement, and how DHS evaluates border security.
Efforts to quash Arizona’s immigration law show how border security has as much to do with politics as geography. Taxpayers have no way of separating reality from carefully crafted fantasy, and the costs of non-enforcement are tremendous. Given the funding wasted on the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) while politicians argued over spending and debt, taxpayers have a right to know what the real story is.
Before pulling the plug on SBInet in January 2011, DHS promised that the program would give us “Expanded detention and removal capabilities to eliminate “catch and release” once and for all;”2 Press releases sounded promising. In August 2009, Secretary Napolitano gave thumbs up to testing results, giving the impression that SBInet was good to go:
We are preparing now to deploy new technology. You’ve heard of the SBInet, because you are all here on the border and you know that it had some false starts, but it is now meeting all of its testing specifications, and we are getting ready to actually deploy it in the Tucson Sector, which parenthetically is the sector of the border where the most illegal activity is now occurring.3
One month later, a Government Accountability Office report gave us a different take on SBInet. Delays had stalled the expensive new system. The completion date had been moved to 2016.4 With at least $3.7 billion dedicated to the project, Napolitano stuck to her guns and testified in December 2009 that:
In addition to the technology deployments noted earlier as part of the Southwest Border Initiative, we have continued to deploy technology under the SBInet program to increase our awareness of the border environment and improve the Border Patrol’s ability to identify and respond to border incursions.5
DHS stopped funding SBInet three months later. Napolitano publicly ended SBInet in January 2011, following up with the “open for business” announcement, which included the following remark about border security:
“From all statistical measures, our efforts are working,” said Napolitano.6
We were told by the GAO that there are no such measures:
The absence of measures for border security outcomes in DHS’s Fiscal Year 2010-2012 Annual Performance Report may reduce oversight and DHS accountability.7
According to the Border Patrol, by the end of 2010 873 miles of the 2,000 mile southwest border were “operationally controlled.” This means that along 129 miles, 6.5% of the border, security was adequate to apprehend illegals when they entered the U.S. The remaining 37.2% of those 2,000 miles were only “managed,” meaning that illegal crossings took place, but there was a good chance of apprehension after the fact.8
Homeland Security continues to tout enforcement success:
The Obama Administration has dedicated historic levels of manpower, technology, and infrastructure to the Southwest border to ensure the safety of border communities, and these resources have made a significant impact. Some of America’s safest communities are in the Southwest border region, with border city crime rates staying steady or dropping over the past decade.9
One month before this statement was posted, the GAO reported that the border was about to become less secure:
DHS is replacing its border security measures, which could temporarily reduce oversight, and reports it may reduce resources requested for securing the southwest border.10
Manipulative press releases and official statements that reinvent reality create a climate ripe for bureaucratic and legislative abuse, and keep taxpayers in perpetual confusion as to the enforcement of our immigration laws, and security at the southwest border. What we know for a fact is that non-enforcement carries a huge price.
Next: how securing the southwest border could save us billions.