Why Isn’t Securing Our Border Part of the Immigration Debate?

The main news on immigration reform today is a compromise on border security that spends an additional $30 billion on security to double the number of border patrol agents, increase surveillance and build a 700 mile fence at the border. The Corker-Hoeven amendment is supposed to give Republican Senators political cover to demonstrate to their constituents that they are committed to border security. At the same time, it doesn’t require that certain security standards be met before allowing illegal immigrants to begin applying for citizenship, as the failed Cornyn amendment would have done. Josh Barro outlined the agreement nicely:

Democrats agreed to spend as much money on border security as Republicans wanted (some $30 billion over 10 years) so long as Republicans agreed that there wouldn’t be consequences if the security doesn’t work.

Barro continues on to say that Republicans made out pretty well with this deal:

And this deal gets Republicans way more in added border security spending than they would have gotten under Cornyn’s amendment. If they think security measures are likely to work, they should be pleased about that, even if there isn’t a consequence for failure.

This is part of the entire immigration debate that has been lost on me. Who exactly doesn’t want a secure border? Cornyn’s amendment was clearly a poison pill that would have killed the bill. The reason though had nothing to do with border security and everything to do with the “triggers.” The amendment could have been used to effectively prevent illegal immigrants from becoming citizens, even with the path-to-citizenship. If those “triggers” aren’t met, then they can’t start the citizenship process. That’s why Democrats had such strong objections to it.

But no Democrat has argued against strengthening our border. This hasn’t even been part of the debate! The CBO’s study on the bill found that it would reduce illegal immigration by 25%*. That’s certainly better than the status quo, but shouldn’t we also be focusing on ways to make that number 50% or 75%? If we can’t find a way to meaningfully reduce illegal immigration, we’re going to continually find ourselves needing immigration reform.

But no one is talking about ways to secure our border. We’re just throwing money at the problem and hoping beefed up security and a big fence will work. As Matt Yglesias notes today, a huge amount of illegal immigrants are people who overstayed their visas. We need better within country border control to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Jared Bernstein also argues for a stronger employment verification system. There are smart proposals for how to stem the flow of illegal immigrants (Yglesias also argues for no cap on guest workers), but we aren’t even having this discussion. Instead, it’s all politics and money. What’s new in D.C.

*Where they get this number is unclear. It’s likely just a general guesstimate, but I also haven’t seen any other studies on how much the bill would reduce illegal immigration. Shouldn’t that be a big part of the conversation?


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