National Immigration Forum

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A Bad Idea, Poorly Executed

September 18, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

On September 17, the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism held a hearing, “The Secure Border Initiative: SBInet Three Years Later.”  The Secure Border Initiative is a combination of surveillance technologies and physical infrastructure meant to deter illegal border crossing. 


The technological element, SBInet—a system of cameras, radars and sensors—is seven years behind schedule on a three-year project.  The “tactical infrastructure” includes 661 miles of vehicle and pedestrian barriers.  In total, more than $3.5 billion have been spent on the Secure Border initiative.  The border fences and walls have cost $2.4 billion.  The tab for the construction and maintenance of the fence over the next 20 years will come to a little under $500,000 per mile per year. 


The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, discussed in the hearing on the 17th, which was critical—to say the least—of the Secure Border Initiative.  Deployment of the technology is years behind schedule.  The fences/walls/barriers are nearly complete, but effectiveness of the border fencing has not been measured.


The GAO report, and news reports about the hearing, gave the impression that the Secure Border Initiative has been very effective in draining the Treasury, but its effectiveness in preventing illegal immigration is yet to be determined.


The reason, really, is that Congress has found it easier to throw money at symbols (mainly walls) to try to enforce broken laws rather than to fix the system itself.  If Congress would do it’s job, and update the laws so that people trying to come here to work could do so with a visa instead of a smuggler, a more rational border security plan could be incorporated into an overhaul of our immigration system, including an update of our admissions system and a path to citizenship for the undocumented. 


As it is, Congress would rather leave the Border Patrol with the untenable task of enforcing broken laws, and then complain when deadlines aren’t met or costs spiral out of control.

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