Cost of Border Deal Questioned

Read this article for an excellent analysis of the implications of the Corker-Hoeven proposed additional spending to the Senate border/immigration bill. Border experts agree that the spending for additional border patrol agents and fencing is more than needed and probably more than is possible to effectively implement.

By Bob Ortega, Arizona Republic, June 22, 2013

A proposed border-security amendment hammered out last week is expected to ensure that a landmark immigration bill passes the U.S. Senate with a solid majority, theoretically improving the bill’s chances in the Republican-controlled House as well.

But in placing 20,000 more Border Patrol agents and 350 more miles of fencing along the U.S. border, the amendment reflects a political calculation that may be more symbolic than pragmatic.

The “Gang of Eight” senators who crafted the bill said the proposed boost in “boots on the ground” and other tough security measures would garner more Republican support for their bill. On Thursday, they backed the so-called border-surge amendment by Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn. The measures would have to be in place before undocumented immigrants would be eligible for legal permanent residency status, Hoeven said.

In border areas currently encountering the most migrants and drugs — notably Arizona’s Tucson Sector and Texas’ Rio Grande Valley Sector — some residents, ranchers and local law-enforcement officers have long called for increases. A week ago, for example, Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels said in an interview, “Why don’t we have more agents on the border? Doesn’t it seem like we ought to be able to shut the border down?”

But some analysts question whether there is real need for dramatic and costly increases in border-security measures.

From a security standpoint, “We’re already reaching a point of diminishing returns with Border Patrol agents,” said Adam Isacson, an analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a nonpartisan think tank. In heavier-traffic areas, he said, “there may be some room for more agents, but not for 20,000.”

Chris Wilson, a border and economic-integration analyst at the Wilson Center, another nonpartisan think tank, agreed.

“Every agent put on the ground will do something, but it may be a handful of apprehensions a year,” he said. “If we let Homeland Security use its professional judgment about how to use whatever level of resources Congress authorizes, we could have a more secure border than by having Congress mandate it.”

Art Del Cueto, president of the Border Patrol Union’s Tucson Local 2544, seemed flabbergasted by the decision.

“They need to take care of the agents that are here now,” he said. “We haven’t had a uniform allowance for two years. We have agents doubled up in vehicles to save fuel. We have to qualify with our firearms every quarter, and they don’t even give us ammo to practice anymore. … How are you going to clothe and provide gas and vehicles for 20,000 more?”

The amendment specifies that the additional agents be deployed along the southwestern border. That would bring the total to 38,405.

Based on Congressional Budget Office estimates, the cost of hiring and deploying 20,000 additional agents over the next decade would be $34.3 billion. That would be on top of the Gang of Eight bill’s provision to hire an additional 3,500 Customs and Border Protection officers for $6 billion over the next decade. Border Patrol agents work between ports of entry, while CBP officers work at the ports.

The Gang of Eight bill also would appropriate up to $6.5 billion over the next five years to implement its provisions. However, the Congressional Budget Office estimated Wednesday that the bill would cost about $22 billion in direct federal spending over the next decade, while leading to economic growth that would cut the deficit by $197 billion.

The Hoeven-Corker amendment would double or triple the cost. Besides more agents and an estimated $3.2 billion in additional surveillance technology, there would be fencing costs.

The 651 miles of fencing built to date varied in cost from $1 million to more than $12 million a mile, according to the Department of Homeland Security and the Government Accountability Office. It includes about 350 miles of pedestrian fence. The rest is vehicle-barrier fencing not designed to stop pedestrians. The amendment would replace vehicle fences on non-tribal lands with pedestrian fencing, and build a second fencing layer where DHS deems it appropriate.

“The only place left to build more fences is through wildlife refuges and private property along the Rio Grande in Texas, where Homeland Security estimates future wall-construction projects to cost $9.4 million per mile. That means spending billions of dollars on hundreds of miles of fence that won’t do what they want it to do,” said Dan Millis of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands campaign.

On Thursday, Gang of Eight member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the amendment “means an agent every 1,000 feet along the southern border.” But the question of where and how agents actually would be deployed isn’t so simple.

In the mid-1990s, according to CBP, agents averaged more than 300 apprehensions apiece per year. By fiscal 2004, the number of agents more than doubled, and each averaged 120 apprehensions a year. By fiscal 2011, the number of agents doubled again to more than 21,000. But as the flow of migrants slowed, average apprehensions per agent fell to 17, or about one every three weeks, last fiscal year.

Another issue: recruiting and training 20,000 agents. From 2004 to 2011, as the Border Patrol hired 10,000 new agents, it relaxed requirements — no high-school diploma needed, for example — and sometimes skipped background checks, leading to problems with corruption and poorly trained agents.

The new proposed surge, too, “raises issues of use of force, corruption and increases in tensions on the border,” said Doris Meissner, a former Immigration and Naturalization Service commissioner. “It puts the institution under really important renewed stresses and strains at a time when they themselves feel they’ve reached the level they need.”

Meissner called the approach “detached from the reality on the ground,” saying it would make more sense to invest in creating “a modern 21st-century border, which includes enforcement but also trade and travel and facilitating crossing and reducing waiting time.”

John Whitley, a former DHS planner, said one problem is a lack of reliable DHS data to show which border-security measures have worked.

Whitley, senior fellow at the Institute for Defense Analyses, said, “We should look at what we’re trying to achieve — at the outputs instead of the inputs. Otherwise, seven years from now we’ll be sitting around saying we don’t know which bits work and which bits are wasteful.”

It’s unclear if the amendment will succeed in its political aim. James Carafano of the conservative Heritage Foundation predicted, “It’s not going to sell in the House.” Conservatives will have doubts that promised money will be allocated, and will likely continue opposing provisional legal status for undocumented immigrants in the near term, he said.

Read the original article.

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