Immigration reform depends on sustainable, provable security along the southern border. But Obama, in a speech in El Paso today, hopes to change the meaning of security.
The porous nature of America’s borders has long worked against a deal over what to do with 11 million people already in the United States violating immigration law. Granting them legal status would be convenient, even moral in some family cases. But then, after giving this break to lawbreakers, more foreign migrants would slip in, with hopes of me-too leniency. That was exactly the case after a 1986 amnesty.
But now President Obama foresees a possible end to this cycle of migrant sin-and-forgiveness.
In a speech today in El Paso, Texas, he suggested that the border with Mexico is secure enough for Congress to pass immigration reform. For those in the US illegally, that would mean a “pathway to citizenship,” as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano calls it. And the flow of new migrants could be contained by the tighter border security, the president implied.
Indeed, since 2006, when Congress got serious about border enforcement, all manner of fences, unmanned aircraft, and high-tech sensors, as well as thousands of additional patrol agents have been put in place. A welcomed bipartisan consensus has developed around securing the border before tackling tougher immigration issues.
Alas, despite the billions already spent, the 2,000-mile southern border is not secure. The General Accountability Office (GAO), the chief watchdog agency for Congress, has found less than half of it to be under operational control. With that news, and with Mr. Obama seeking Hispanic votes for his 2012 reelection, the president had decided to reframe the meaning of border security.
On May 4, Ms. Napolitano announced an effort to create a “border security index” by next year that would “comprehensively and systematically” measure the effects of law enforcement along the border with Mexico.