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The House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security Holds Hearing: “What Does a Secure Border Look Like?” (Updated 2/26/13)

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 13022540 (posted Feb. 26, 2013)"

On 02/26/13 at 10:00 Eastern the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security will try to answer the question: “What Does a Secure Border Look Like?

Subcommittee Chairman Candice Miller (R-MI) on the hearing: “In recent years the Department of Homeland Security has defined progress in securing our border in terms of resources put in the field – how many agents, miles of fence, or technology we have deployed. While those are important, success in securing the border must be defined by real and measurable benchmarks. This brings up important questions for the officials at the Department: What does a secure border look like? How do we use the resources at our disposal to get there? And finally what is the best way to measure progress?

“On Tuesday, the Border and Maritime Subcommittee will focus on a discussion of desired outcomes. American taxpayers have made massive investments in the U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the U.S. Coast Guard, and the amount of technology we’ve deployed at our borders. In these difficult budgetary times it is more important than ever that Congress examines what the American people have gotten for this investment, how we will measure progress going forward, and if we are on the path to provide our nation with the secure borders we need.”

Excerpts from the hearing

Representative Miller
Q: Chief Fisher, perhaps we should use other than apprehension rate to measure border security. You mentioned a 90% effectiveness rate which would be an optimal goal, which I think is an admirable goal. Would you look at a 90% goal across all of our borders?
Fisher A: first of all, 90% wouldn't make sense everywhere. You can pick a particular spot. If on average, if there were only 4 people coming across, and we catch 3 out of 4, it wouldn't make sense to put more and resources there to get to 90%. Differentiate between more activity or less activity. Put the resources in the high activity, optimize the capability for agents to close the last 50 feet, detection capability. When you look at the smuggling business, they are there to make money. When we impact their profit margin, when we are apprehending what they are smuggling, there is a business decision that will be made. We've been able to sustain 90% effectiveness at certain sectors in the border, so we see it as achievable. It doesn't make sense everywhere. Where it makes sense, we want to start parsing it out.

Representative O'Rourke
Q: The fate of 12 million in the U.S. right now and the future of CIR depend on this question of is the border secure. The fate of El Paso, the city I represent, the safest city in the U.S. depend on the answer of this question. Not to mention the billions of dollars we spend on the border. Since we are unable to succinctly define what a secure border is today. Given that El Paso is the safest, San Diego is the 2nd safest, and given that we have doubled the number of border patrol, and when you compare the border to the nation as a whole, it is safer. Are we as safe and secure as we have ever been?
Fisher A: Certainly because of this committee's support and others, we have received unprecedented resources and there are many sectors along the border have been secured because of that.
McAleenan A: I agree, we are significantly more secure.

Q: With so much riding on our ability to speak intelligently on this, it is important for the country to know that the border is more secure than it has ever been. One of the things that are a threat to El Paso and other cities is the slow cross-border traffic. We hear about shipping companies in 9 hour delays. We hear from constituents who wait in 3-4 hours in pedestrian or auto lines. If we can get me across in 10 minutes, why can't we get everyone across in 10 minutes.
McAleenan A: We have made significant improvements, delay times reduced 14% in El Paso. We are using our technologies. We are staffing our peak time more efficiently, but it is a continuing focus for us.

Representative Barletta
Q: I come from a much different perspective, being a former mayor from a city more than 2000 miles from the southern border. And we have a problem with illegal aliens. And a majority did not cross the southern border. There is an economic side to this illegal immigration problem as well as a national security. The first question is how do you even define our borders? Any state that has an international airport is a border state. 40% of the people who are in the country illegally came here on visas. Chief, do you believe adding more people on the border would have stopped the attack on 9/11
Fisher A: No, sir.

Q: Mr. McAleenan, if I was a terrorist, and flew into an airport and didn't leave, how would you find me
McAleenan A: if they are not known by the intelligence community, this is a multi-agency effort. We would use the biographical information transmitted to CBP, we would work with USVISIT and ICE to see if they left, that is a biographical exit.

Q: We are discussing a new immigration proposal and it is telling everyone with a visa that they can throw their visas away. We can't exclude those who come through a legal pathway and then stay illegally. Today is the 20th anniversary on the 1993 attack on the WTC. We are a long way from secure borders.

Q: In a time of budget constraints. Chief Fisher, how you work with local LEA as a force multiplier
Fisher A: We call that community engagement. Our ability to work with not just local and state LEA, but also the community, the business owners, the communities of interest. Our focus is to understand the threats. This has worked in the past year in south TX, we have had great cooperation with the oil industry, we are explaining our strategy and they have often given us information we might not have gotten about illegal immigration.

Representative Cuellar
For us here in TX, we understand that in areas like TX, securing the border has always been challenging. The issue is how do we secure the border. Anyone that comes with a simplistic view that you can put up a border, we need to look beyond that. We have to be smart about how we secure the border. 40% came in through legal process, so you can put up a fence and still not deal with the issue. A lot of times, as the oversight individuals, we aren't given the information until later. For example, the BCI, we haven't seen it, we don't' know who's putting it together. And we get the answer that you're working on it. We want to know what the performance measures are. Everybody has a perception of what border security, but we need your help so that we can all agree. I'm also one of those who believe the border is secure. Do we need to do more? Yes, we can always do more. But we've got to come to an agreement of what is secure.

Representative Jackson Lee
Q: Chief Fisher, I would like to know why operational control might not be the best terminology. Mr. Rosenblum, please match CIR and border security.
Fisher A: In terms of operational control, as we look at its organization and as a tactical term, I didn't think it was synonymous with security, given the way it was being used in context outside of the agency. Security should be measured in outcomes not outputs.
Rosenblum A: How important it is to think about border security in a systematic context. The tools we have in place are one of several tools in context of worksite enforcement, admissions, etc.

Witness List:

Mr. Michael J. Fisher
Chief, Border Patrol
Department of Homeland Security

Mr. Kevin McAleenan
Acting Assistant Commissioner
Office of Field Operations, U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Department of Homeland Security

RAdm William Lee
Deputy For Operations Policy and Capabilities
U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security

Ms. Rebecca Gambler
Acting Director, Homeland Security and Justice
Government Accountability Office

Marc R. Rosenblum, PhD
Specialist in Immigration Policy, Congressional Research Service
The Library of Congress