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RELEASE: The ‘Border Security First’ Argument: A Red Herring Undermining Real Security

By Marshall Fitz , Angela Maria Kelley and Ann Garcia

To read the full report, click here.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of numerous border-focused hearings in the House of Representatives, draft legislation requiring a 5 year operational border control plan from the Department of Homeland Security within 180 days, and calls for a limited, border security only agenda — the Center for American Progress is releasing the report “The ‘Border Security First’ Argument: A Red Herring Undermining Real Security.”

This report considers the term “operational control,” examines demands for “border security first,” outlines the strides made by the Department of Homeland Security under both President Bush and President Obama and calls for political courage to create a legal system whereby undocumented immigrants would register, pay taxes, and earn status.

The report dissects the flawed arguments which continue to delay the comprehensive immigration reform that a majority of Americans have repeatedly called for. The arguments made in support of a border security only policy fail to articulate a clear, realistic standard of border security and fail to acknowledge evidence that the Department of Homeland Security met and exceeded stringent enforcement benchmarks that “border security first” supporters laid out in legislation introduced in the 110th Congress.

Many “border security first” proponents argue that we can only implement reforms to our immigration laws after specific enforcement benchmarks were met. This report contends that, based on the reform legislation introduced in the 110th Congress by this same group of lawmakers, DHS has reached the high standards laid out in the bill over the last four years – enhancing operational control of the border, increasing border control staff, strengthening border barriers, ending the practice of ‘catch and release’ and establishing workplace enforcement tools used in identifying and preventing undocumented workers from gaining employment in the United States. The tangible results of these specific reforms include:

  • Today there are 21,370 Border Patrol agents and over 20,600 CBP officers at ports of entry — the highest number of agents and officers in our nation’s history.
  • DHS completed construction of 299 miles of vehicle barriers and 350 miles of pedestrian barriers in FY 2010, totaling approximately 649 miles out of 652 planned miles of fencing along the southwest border – the most barriers and fencing ever located along the border.
  • Approximately 99 percent of unlawful border crossers apprehended from countries other than Mexico are now detained.
  • ICE initiated 5,371 financial investigations of employers in FY 2010 which led to 1,811 arrests, 778 convictions, and $309.8 million in monetary and nonmonetary seizures. ICE also conducted 2,196 Form I-9 inspections in FY 2010 which resulted in 196 arrests and $42.9 million in civil fines, forfeitures, and restitutions—all record-breaking levels.

Our borders are more fortified with infrastructure and personnel than ever before, and we now spend $17 billion a year on immigration and border enforcement. “Border security first” proponents are standing in the way of more substantial border security by blocking enactment of additional layers of control that would restore the rule of law by funneling migrants into a legal system and requiring them to register, pay taxes, and earn status. The administration’s commitment to border security and robust enforcement is indisputable, but large-scale systemic dysfunction will persist until Congress tackles broader immigration reforms.

To read the full report, click here.

To speak with CAP experts, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202-481-8181 or

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