WASHINGTON, April 18 -- Arizona Sen. John McCain urged the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday to develop an index to gauge border security, a measurement he called “fundamental” to the just-introduced bipartisan immigration reform plan.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who was appearing before a Senate committee to discuss President Barack Obama’s proposed 2014 budget, said the department plans to add 3,500 new personnel to secure the country’s ports of entry. But the budget, overall, cuts spending by 2 percent,
One of the most controversial measures proposed in the Gang of Eight bill is the border security “trigger.” It mandates that “persistent surveillance” and “an effectiveness rate of 90 percent or higher” in apprehensions and turn backs must be achieved before the 13-year process of legalization can begin for the country’s nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Napolitano expressed support for the trigger, calling it a “very reasonable approach to border security,” and said the department is “greatly encouraged” by the immigration bill drafted by McCain and seven other senators.
McCain had questions about how the department plans to measure effectiveness, saying that “one of the big problems” facing the provision is that Napolitano has “abandoned” an operational control metric.
“You have not given us a border security index,” McCain said. “We don’t have a measure of border security, period.”
Napolitano, a former Arizona governor, responded that a single definition of control doesn’t “encompass all the ways you can look at the border.”
She compared the “host of statistics” of border security to those of a baseball player and said measuring if the border is a safe and secure area is “a more difficult question to answer than it is to ask.
“The notion that there’s some magic number out there that answers the question—I wish I could tell you there is,” she told McCain, “but we haven’t found it yet.”
“I know that there is,” McCain countered, noting that apprehensions at the border are up 13 percent, contrary to the department’s assertion that they have decreased.
“It’s beyond anyone’s belief, or anyone in the Senate that’s worked on this issue, that you can’t come up with a measure of the security of our border,” McCain said.
“If you can’t do that, then we will,” he said, referring to himself and the Senate.
McCain said that without some concrete measure of security, the country will see a wave of immigrants similar to the one that came to the U.S. following the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.
“We must address this issue. The American people have to be assured that there’s not going to be a third wave,” he said.
The Senate bill outlines increases in personnel and technology along the border, including the VADER radar currently in use. Napolitano stressed that the provisions will effectively deter illegal entries into the U.S.
The trigger will be up for debate Friday when the bill goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee.