Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

January 1, 2006

More reaction to the border bill

Filed under: Border Security,Congress and HLS — by Christian Beckner on January 1, 2006

The border fence provision of the border security bill passed by the House before the holidays gets a closer look in the Dallas Morning News yesterday (login req’d; borrow one here). The article highlights the split opinion among Texas’ two senators on the fence:

The debate moves to the Senate, where Texas’ senators, both Republicans, are split.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is open to the idea.

“We already have fences in high-volume areas. I think that should be one of the tools. I don’t think you need a 2,000-mile fence,” she said, “but I think fences in the high-volume areas, where you have drug trafficking and crime and illegal aliens coming across that are not even from Mexico, that’s part of securing our country and having integrity at our borders.”

Sen. John Cornyn sees even the 700-mile fence as impractical and a waste of money.

“I would call the idea of a fence or a wall at the border a 19th-century solution to a 21st-century problem. … Can’t people just go around it?” he said.

Both senators want more border guards. Mr. Cornyn says an extra 10,000 guards, along with electronic surveillance and barriers erected at strategic spots, would create a far more cost-effective “virtual fence.” He also wants a guest worker program to ease pressure on enforcement.

I’ve been trying to figure out my opinion on the Southern border fence for the last few weeks. On the one hand, I viscerally dislike the idea of a border fence – it runs symbolically counter to America’s identity as an open nation of immigrants. But we’re also a nation of laws, and when I examine the statistics on “Other than Mexican” (OTM) and “country of interest” apprehensions at the Southern Border (see this CRS report), I have to acknowledge that the southern border is a real point of vulnerability in our homeland security system today.

I ultimately reach the conclusion that I support a fence – but if and only if Congress also passes a guest worker program and if the cost can be kept at a ceiling of $2-3 million per mile.

I also think the last argument that Sen. Cornyn makes here – comparing the fence with hiring more guards – doesn’t pass the cost-effectiveness test if you look at the math. Hiring another 10,000 border guards would cost at least $110,000 per person,* i.e, $1.1 billion a year, on an ongoing basis, whereas building a fence shouldn’t be more than a one-time cost of $2.0-5.0 billion, depending on length, if it’s priced appropriately.

The article also includes details on where, according to the House bill, the Southern border fence would be built.

And in related news, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, in response to protestations in his home district on Long Island, admitted to Newsday yesterday that he expects the Senate to substantially revise the bill:

After an outpouring of criticism from churches and relief groups, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) said Friday he is willing to reword the legislation he co-sponsored that would have made it illegal to assist undocumented immigrants….

King said the bill is unlikely to be passed in its present form by the Senate, which he expected to add provisions for a guest-worker program granting temporary visas mainly to low-skilled workers. However, he did say “a significant portion of it has to become law otherwise no immigration reform bill will pass the House.”

It will be interesting to see if quotes such as this one drive a wedge between Rep. King and some of the more hardline advocates of the bill in the coming weeks.

*This is a low-end estimate and includes only direct costs associated with employing a Border Patrol officer: salary, benefits, training, and direct equipment. Estimate is based upon analysis of CBP budget figures for FY 2006.

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7 Comments »

71

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Blog Archive » A preview of the border security bill fight in the Senate

January 10, 2006 @ 5:58 pm

[...] I think this analysis is essentially correct, and it’s consistent with what I’ve previously written here and here. We’ve got a long way to go still – I hope you brought a large coke and a large bag of popcorn for the show. [...]

133

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Blog Archive » Vicente Fox speaks out against a border fence

January 25, 2006 @ 12:10 am

[...] I wrote at the beginning of the month in this post about my mixed feelings on the border fence idea, stating that while I viscerally disliked the idea, I recognized the real benefits of it from a security perspective. I came to the conclusion that I was willing to support a border fence with two conditions: (a) if it was packaged together with a guest worker program and (b) fiscal discipline could be ensured for its construction. [...]

314

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Blog Archive » SF Chronicle looks at the border fence issue

February 28, 2006 @ 12:52 am

[...] Back in early January I indicated my tentative acceptance of the idea of a border fence, subject to the simultaneous adoption of a guest worker program (or another program that promotes legal work in vital sectors) AND a clearer understanding that costs could be kept in the $2m-$3m/mile range. The statistics above are at the very high end of my cost comfort level, and worrisome given the overruns on the San Diego fence. Before making any funding commitments, Congress needs to get a better handle on the actual expected costs of any border fence: there have been too many numbers thrown around willy-nilly in this discussion in the past few months. Without a solid baseline cost assessment, taxpayer funds will be unnecessarily put at risk. [...]

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Blog Archive » Border security theater and the National Guard

May 15, 2006 @ 9:35 pm

[...] Overall, this proposal has all the marks of being costly and ineffective. And this analysis doesn’t even cover the issue of the National Guard already being overstretched as a result of the war in Iraq and the Guard’s disaster management responsibilities, which is also a concern. If border states want to spend their own money sending their National Guard forces to the border, fine. But the federal government shouldn’t pay for it. Instead of wasting money on stopgap measures, we should accelerate the increase in Border Patrol agents, technology investment, or what is probably the best bet strictly from a cost standpoint (although detestable for symbolic reasons), building a complete border fence. [...]

Comment by Scott

June 2, 2006 @ 10:41 pm

I live less than 10 miles up from the border, and one important aspect of the Immigration Bill proposals to build a fence along the border that I have not seen discussed is the impact of 2005’s Real ID Act. To promote the creation of fencing through a nature preserve near San Diego, a provision was included that reads, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive, and shall waive, all laws such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads.” This means that if the House / Senate conference committee approves construction of a continuous wall from Laredo to Brownsville, Secretary Chertoff is instructed to ignore any law that may stand in the way. If a private landowner does not like the compensation offered for his property, Homeland Security can just take it. If the Sabal Palm Audubon Sanctuary does not want to sacrifice a big chunk of their preserve, that is too bad. The fact that there are less than 100 ocelots in the Rio Grande Valley and a fence would cut them off from necessary breeding partners, condemning them to extinction, is irrelevant because the Real ID Act trumps the Endangered Species Act. It is difficult to understand the twisted logic that says that we must set aside all laws to defend law and order.

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October 30, 2006 @ 3:10 pm

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Comment by jojo ur fan

October 30, 2006 @ 3:12 pm

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