How Border Security 'Trigger' Could Stop Immigration Reform

By Grant, David | The Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 2013 | Go to article overview
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How Border Security 'Trigger' Could Stop Immigration Reform

Grant, David, The Christian Science Monitor

Immigration reformers want to bring the more than 10 million undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. Border security hawks want assurances that if they go along with that plan, they wont be back in 10 years deciding whether or not to legalize 10 million more.

Whats Congress to do?

Figure out a trigger, where advances in border security are deemed sufficient to trigger the beginning of the journey to citizenship for the undocumented already in the country.

As immigration reform negotiations continue, determining just what counts as a secure border and how to link that to plans for the undocumented will be crucial. Indeed, finding an answer could determine whether a bipartisan immigration reform measure reaches President Obamas desk or if 2013 is yet another disappointment for reformers.

Historically, those on Capitol Hill have tried to craft a delicate balance between border security and a path to legal status for the undocumented. For example, the comprehensive immigration reform legislation of the George W. Bush years, which ultimately failed, had a series of triggers. In 2009, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) of New York proposed more broadly that operational control of the border must be achieved within a year of enactment of legislation.

But those triggers aren't helpful anymore. Most of the benchmarks for border security established in 2007, for example, have been met today, according to an analysis by the pro-reform advocacy group Americas Voice.

Border patrol staffing north of 20,000? Check: there are more than 21,000 agents on the border at present. Requirements for unmanned drones and a variety of other observation methods? All are at or above the 2007 requirements today. Fencing? Within eight miles of the 2007 target.


Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on Tuesday that while the department lacks a single measure on which to base a trigger and that a trigger based on any single measure would be a bad idea all the data DHS collects point to a border safer than ever before.

Some Democrats and immigration reform advocates take this to say that the border is secure already and should not stand in the way of the undocumented becoming US citizens even if further border security measures are needed.

Republican reformers like Sen. John McCain of Arizona have a slightly different view, holding that while the southern border certainly is far improved from nearly a decade ago theres still plenty of room for improvement.

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