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Is US-Mexico border secure enough? Immigration reform could hinge on answer.

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"While we have made enormous progress in improving border security, the job is not finished," says Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates tighter border enforcement.

That sentiment is echoed by Republicans whose support could be crucial to immigration reform. During the first Senate hearing on the topic this year, GOP senators challenged the assertion by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that "our borders have, in fact, never been stronger."

Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas responded: "I do not believe the border is secure, and I still believe we have a long, long way to go."

Going forward, a central question in the immigration-reform debate will be what more can – and should – be done. In many ways, answering that question depends on understanding what has been done so far.

While the massive rise in illegal immigration throughout the 1980s and '90s brought some increases in manpower and technology to the Southwest border, 9/11 started a sea change.

In 2003, the size of the border patrol stood at 10,717 agents. In 2012, the number totaled 21,394, with 18,516 stationed along a Southwest border reinforced with state-of-the-art technology that includes ground sensors, hand-held thermal-imaging equipment, surveillance cameras, and predator drones. During that time, the border patrol budget increased from $1.4 billion to $3.5 billion, according to agency data.

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