Described as, “The toughest border security bill ever before Congress, with real penalties for the administration for not doing their job,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, along with 14 original cosponsors. introduced the Secure Our Borders First Act (H.R. 399) to gain and maintain control of the nation’s land and maritime borders.
“The federal government’s number one priority under the Constitution is to provide for the common defense, but when it comes to border security the administration has failed,” McCaul said. “Failure is not an option on this issue, so Congress must lead. The Secure Our Borders First Act ensures a smart, safe and cost-effective border by building fencing where fencing is needed and allocating technology where technology is needed.”
“It is the toughest border security bill ever before Congress, with real penalties for the administration for not doing their job,” McCaul emphasized, adding, “We need this legislation to protect the American people and sovereignty of this nation.”
The Secure Our Borders First Act would require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “to achieve operational control of high traffic areas of the southwest border in two years – and the entire southwest border in five years – and establishes a commission to independently verify that the border is secure,” McCaul’s office explained.
The legislation would also enforce penalties on DHS political appointees if the administration does not meet the terms of the bill.
“Additionally,” McCauls office said, “the bill provides sector-by-sector analysis of threats and needs on the border and attaches to that the resources necessary to gain operational control. This includes the allocation of technology capabilities in each sector along the southern border, the construction and replacement of fencing and access roads, and additional flight hours."
“The legislation also bolsters border security by providing Border Patrol agents access to federal lands, granting flexibility to Customs and Border Protection [CBP] to relocate resources, fully funding the National Guard on the border and increasing grants funding for local law enforcement agencies who assist in securing the border," he said.
The bill was referred to the committee and will move through regular order, McCaul said.
The bill comes on the heels of McCaul’s early October proposal to secure the border, Blueprint for Southern Border Security.
"Securing our borders is first and foremost a national security issue,” McCaul said at the time, adding, “We must identify the threats and be able to respond quickly, but we can’t do either without seeing the entire border. My proposal matches resources and capabilities to needs on the southern border to allow Border Patrol agents to finally gain complete visibility. This is the first step to providing Americans the secure border they demand and deserve."
The proposal maps out sector-by-sector recommendations on resource allocation and capability improvements to achieve full situational awareness of the border. An interactive map outlining the sector-by-sector recommendations is available here.
In addition to gaining situational awareness, the proposal called for:
- Developing outcome-based means to measure border security;
- Bolstering interior enforcement;
- Increasing coordination between federal, state and local efforts;
- Creating a new command and control structure; and
- Engaging our international partners.
Responding to McCaul’s Blueprint for Southern Border Security, Dr. James Phelps, president of Phelps and Associates LLC, a veteran owned and operated consulting firm and the primary developer of the online and face-to-face undergraduate and graduate degrees in border and homeland security at Angelo State University, wrote in the Oct./Nov. issue of Homeland Security Today that, “The proposal provided a detailed analysis of current trends in each US Border Patrol sector along the entire Southwest border, as well as maritime security issues for both the Pacific and Gulf coasts [and] included a number of initiatives to expand current operations such as Stonegarden and a universal proposal to utilize Department of Defense (DOD) technology to better gain situational awareness of border vulnerabilities.”
“Operation Stonegarden’s intent is to enhance law enforcement preparedness and operational readiness along the land borders of the United States,” Phelps wrote, and “provides funding to designated localities to enhance cooperation and coordination between law enforcement agencies in a joint mission to secure the nation’s land borders.”
“However, that is not where the committee concluded their proposal,” he wrote. “They also examined the potential to expand the availability and use of monitoring and detection equipment already in use — such as fixed observation towers and greater employment of ‘game cameras’ along the entire land border.”
“Perhaps the key proposal the committee present[ed], and the one most likely to receive political backlash from the Obama administration, is the mandate to establish outcome-based metrics to measure border security between ports of entry, at ports of entry and along maritime borders,” Phelps observed, noting that, “This portion of the proposal requires DHS to actually determine the number of people who cross illegally and don’t get caught or turned back based on a miraculous new concept, ‘situational awareness’ — an impossible directive as no country in history has ever been able to do more than provide a gross estimate of the amount of smuggling (human and contraband trafficking).”
“Even with expanded monitoring capabilities,” Phelps wrote, “the probability of actually determining how many people and drug loads are missed is going to ultimately be purely conjecture on the part of DHS, and will be manipulated by the department’s political appointees to meet the needs of whatever administration is currently in office.”
“Although the potential exists that some new figures will be created that can be used to demonstrate that there is insufficient personnel in a given area to actually accomplish interdiction efforts – another metric subject to jurisdictional manipulation – there are better ways to actually measure the effectiveness of border security efforts,” he said.
“The best measure of drug interdiction efforts is to measure the actual street price of illegal narcotics that cannot be manufactured, stolen and redistributed within the US,” Phelps wrote, noting that, “Key among these would be the price of Mexican Black Tar Heroin and Cocaine. These two products must be imported to reach their consumers, and are not being brought into the country in large quantities except by crossing the southern or maritime borders. Measuring the cost of these drugs — and their estimated number ofconsumers — provides a real time, constantly fluctuating metric of how effective the general drug interdiction efforts are.”
“To measure the number of apprehended illegal border crossers in relation to the missed border crossers is much more difficult and requires an admission by the US that there’s a large underground economy within its borders,” Phelps added, saying, “No administration from any party is going to openly admit such because doing so is tantamount to admitting failure to secure the borders and to provide effective economic support for the legitimate economy.”
“Just counting possible missed immigrants based on technological monitoring and comparing that to apprehended immigrants within the same region is just another billion dollar failure waiting to happen,” he concluded.
Editor’s note: For more on earlier discussions about metrics to judge border security, read the March 21, 2013 Homeland Security Today report, Baseline for Acceptable Level of Illicit Cross-Border Activity Gets Closer Scrutiny.
Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.), vice chair of the House Homeland Security Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security and a supporter of McCaul’s bill, said, “The fact is, we do not have operational control of our borders – any of them. We also don’t have an effective method of assessing how we achieve operational control and can’t tell if our border security operations are succeeding and to what degree.”
“For example,” she noted, “last year, we know that a half a million people were apprehended trying to cross the southern border, but we don’t know how many actually crossed over.”
“For decades, this country has struggled to adequately secure its borders while threats against our homeland grow in number and sophistication,” Miller said. “We are confronted with the tragic consequences of drug and human smuggling, and, most recently, we painfully witnessed a humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands of unaccompanied children crossed our southern border.”
“For decades, we have lacked the political will to take the action needed to secure our borders, and inaction has taken a toll on this country,” she stated, stressing that, “The time to act is now. Last week, my colleagues and I introduced the Secure Our Borders First Act, legislation that will finally allow us to gain control of our nation’s borders and establish metrics that we can use to demonstrate operational success or failure. With components such as strategic fencing, the utilization of new and proven technologies, and use of the National Guard as a force multiplier, this legislation takes a layered approach to securing our borders.”
“Securing our borders is one of the enumerated responsibilities of the federal government outlined in the Constitution, and we are failing,” she continued. “However, I am optimistic that, in the days and weeks ahead, we are going to demonstrate that we do have the political will to secure our border and protect our homeland.”
The Secure Our Borders First Act is scheduled to be marked up by the full Committee on Wednesday, January 21.
In a recent op-ed for the Wilmington News Journal, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), former chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, weighed in on the ongoing border debate. Over the past decade, he pointed out, the nation has spent nearly $250 billion toward border security while spending less than 1 percent of that amount to help address the issues plaguing the countries that lead to so many Central Americans flooding the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas in 2012-2013.