U.S.-Mexico border ‘more secure than ever,’ official says
Contrary to popular perception, the U.S.-Mexico border is the safest it’s been in a decade due to enhanced enforcement techniques and a surge in Border Patrol personnel, the Obama administration’s border security chief said on Thursday.
“People who live on the border know that it’s more secure than ever,” Alan Bersin, the commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB), said during a forum at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress.
Bersin cited FBI crime statistics that shows violence along the border is at its lowest point in years and that four out of the top 10 safest U.S. cities sit close to the boundary.
He also said that the amount of Border Patrol agents have doubled over the past seven years (in the Tucson, Ariz. corridor alone, the highest-traffic area for illegal crossings, there are 5,000 agents on patrol) and that CPB is using enhanced technology and crime-fighting techniques to deter illegal entry to the U.S.
Comprehensive immigration reform legislation has been held up in Congress for the past several years over Republican concerns over border security. GOP lawmakers say that the border must be fully secured before they would be open to considering a comprehensive immigration bill.
Bersin declined to specifically blame Republicans for the heightened concern over border, security, but did say that the view of the border as unsafe could be attributed to the ”volatility of border politics.”
He claimed that fully securing the border would require 400,000-500,000 Border Patrol agents along the Southern boundary and in turn even more government investment, a cost he said the public would be unwilling to bear.
“The difficulty is not that the American people wouldn’t understand it, it’s that there is a volatility to border politics that any incident” can be blown out of proportion, he said.
But Republicans on Capitol Hill paint a dramatically different picture of the security situation along the U.S.-Mexico border than Bersin did.
After President Obama’s visit to El Paso, Texas in May, Republican lawmakers slammed him for asserting the border was the safest its been in years.
GOP lawmakers say that high-profile incidents of violence perpetrated by Mexican cartels have increased over the past several years, resulting in “spillover” crime in the United States that are underrepresented in crime stats.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said at the time that 70-90 percent of the Texas-Mexico border is not under control, according to Fox News.
“Before we start talking about reforming our immigration policy we need to prioritize our national security and gain operational control of the border,” he said in a statement at the time. “Despite the president’s rhetoric that he has gone ‘above and beyond’ to secure the border, this mission is not accomplished.”
But Bersin countered, saying that that decreased apprehensions of illegal immigrants over the past three years suggest that crossings have decreased. He also said that CPB has boosted its cooperation with Mexican authorities and it is cracking down on so-called “coyotes,” or smugglers who bring in illegals.
“Unfortunately though, sensationalism sells,” he said.
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