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The push for comprehensive immigration reform is gathering steam on Capitol Hill, and both parties say that ensuring secure borders is an integral part of reform – but now the Obama administration is admitting that it has no system for measuring the effectiveness of border security.
Shortly after taking office, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the old "operational control" method of evaluating border security was "archaic" and that the Department of Homeland Security was developing a much more accurate system known as the Border Condition Index, or BCI.
The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security recently held hearings to learn about the BCI, but was stunned by the testimony of DHS official Mark Borkowski.
"We sort of anticipated that we would be hearing how the BCI was about to be implemented and the construct of it and the components, etc. Instead of that, we were told that they weren't going to be able to tell us much about that because they didn't think that would be very effective either so they weren't going to be able to use that. As you might imagine, both Republicans and Democrats were almost stunned by his testimony," said Rep. Candice Miller, R.-Mich., chairwoman of the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee, who is very troubled by the inability of the DHS to handle this critical issue.
"There isn't anybody else to ask," she told WND. "I'm sorry it's difficult, but that's their job. It's not like we can go to another agency and say, 'What do you guys think?' The Department of Homeland Security is missioned and tasked with this."
Miller added, "We have to be able to measure, to have some degree of accountability, a measurement matrix of some type to be able to really understand the percentage of operational control at our borders, all the different components that the Department of Homeland Security uses that have a nexus with the border and whether we're having success or failure or whether we're making progress or not, quite frankly."
According to Miller, the most recent estimate of operational control came in a 2010 report that suggested it has operational control of 44 percent of our border with Mexico and just four percent on our northern border with Canada.
She admitted the border can never be totally secure, but she said recent testimony from Customs and Border Protection Director Mike Fisher suggests 90 percent of operational control is achievable.
"I have to say if you could get to 90 percent, I think the American people would feel a high degree of comfort and confidence that we have our borders pretty well secured," Miller said.
President Obama and other supporters of comprehensive immigration reform contend that border security concerns have been addressed through more manpower, virtual and actual fencing, the use of drones and more money for security purposes. Miller said all of that is welcome, and apprehension numbers are up along the border, but that doesn't convince her that the problem is being solved.
"There has to be some accountability for how we are doing there. Part of that strategy for all of this has to be a measurement system that makes sense and not just the ad hoc application of resources," she said. "Right now we're fixated on throwing more resources at the problem. I think the conversation will now rotate a bit to focusing on outcome. Really, how effective are we at keeping bad things and bad people out of the country?"
In addition to not having a handle on the state of our borders, Miller said DHS dropping the ball on this issue could end up derailing immigration reform.
"If they're not able to have something that is really representative of security progress along the border, they could be the big stumbling block for this comprehensive immigration reform, and that would be too bad I believe, because I do think the country is ready to engage in this debate and the Congress certainly is," she said.
Miller said the momentum for reform may lead to passage of legislation with these border security metric being addressed, but she said there are other members of Congress who are deeply troubled by this.
"I do think that the scene has been laid out there that you can actually have something pass the House and the Senate and signed into law by the president this year, perhaps. Sometimes in politics, something happens and the stars line up, and people are ready to move on a particular issue," she said.
"But in my mind, and I believe many others, there will be huge consternation for those kinds of proposals if we just have a complete void of having any type of way of measuring the security progress along the border," Miller said. "Whether they want to use the BCI or not use it, or operational control or what have you, how do you measure border security?"