January 29, 2013

As Greg noted this morning, one of the sticking points in immigration reform is border security and enforcement. There is no agreement on the role of the proposed Southwestern border commission — even Republicans differ on whether it should be an advisory board or if it posses a veto.

More to the point, there’s clear disagreement between the two parties over what counts as a “secure” border — over the definition of “secure.”

Based on their push for greater border resources, Republicans seem to think that the border remains unprotected. In truth, the Obama administration has devoted tremendous resources to protecting the border and deporting undocumented immigrants. Last year, according to the nonpartisan Migration Research Institute, the Obama administration spent more than $18 billion on border security and immigration enforcement. That’s more than was spent on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. And a 2011 report from the Government Accounting Office found that 81 percent of the border with Mexico met one of the top three levels of operational control and security, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security.

Likewise, under Obama, the federal government has deported undocumented immigrants at a record pace. Since 2009, the administration has deported nearly 1.5 million people at a pace of roughly 400,000 deportations per year. Indeed, at 409,849, 2012 was a record year for removing people from the country. And when you consider the slow pace of undocumented immigration from Mexico — it fell to zero last year, on account of tougher security and a growing Mexican economy — odds are good that the United States has seen a net reduction in the number of undocumented immigrants.

All of this is to say that there isn’t much more the administration can do with regards to border security. Far from more security, what we need is for Republicans to acknowledge the degree to which the administration has dedicated itself to protecting the border and ensuring safety for towns and cities that neighbor Mexico. If Republicans are going to make immigration reform contingent on the security of the border, we won’t be able to reach a compromise if they are unwilling to judge the current state of border security in a reality-based way. And the reality is that we don’t have a border security problem.

Jamelle Bouie is a staff writer at The American Prospect, where he writes a blog.