Senators John McCain and Jon Kyl, both from Arizona, unveiled a 10-point enforcement-only immigration bill yesterday. The bill is their answer to several incidents of violence along the border, including the shooting death of an Arizona rancher, that have ignited the issue of border security again.
McCain and Kyl are calling for 3,000 National Guard troops to be sent to patrol the border over the next five years until the governor can ensure that there is “operational control” at the border. They also want to bolster the Operation Streamline program that sends migrants who are caught entering the United States without papers to jail for anywhere from 15 to 90 days. The bill demands a $40 million increase on top of the $60 million that’s already allocated for Operation Stonegarden, a program that funds Arizona’s state border patrol enforcement.
This morning the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held a hearing to survey border enforcement policies in the wake of the failed 2,000-mile SBInet virtual fence program, which was halted by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Alan Bersin, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, laid out the border security plan for the immediate future, which includes a combination of investments in physical fences and high-tech monitoring systems, harsher punishments for people who are detained at the border, and more Border Patrol personnel.
Customs and Border Protection’s plans for patrolling the border will continue the trend of increased harsh militarization of the border, with little regard for whether the policies actually make the border a safer place for residents and migrants. McCain, who’s now working hard to be seen as unforgivingly strict on border enforcement, eventually had a hard time competing with the severe enforcement measures already underway.
The hearing did provide McCain, who is up for re-election back home, an opportunity to preen and posture his way around the issue. Several times in the course of the two-hour hearing McCain asked pointed questions he already knew the answers to and launched into diatribes on the dangers of drug traffickers and law-breaking migrants.
McCain took on an exchange with Octavio Garcia-Von Borstel, the mayor of Nogales, Arizona, to quell the accusations that these programs and other laws in Arizona essentially legalize racial profiling. McCain asked Garcia-Von Borstel, “What percent of Nogales is Hispanic?”
The mayor responded: “Probably 98 percent of the town.” “And how do the citizens of your town feel about border security?” McCain then asked. Garcia-Von Borstel gave a respectfully cordial answer, that everyone in Nogales recognizes there’s a need to deal with border violence and ensure the safety of migrants.
McCain’s line of questioning would have had the same rhetorical effect as if he’d just come out and said: “Even Latinos living in Arizona know ratcheting up the militarized patrolling of the border is good policy.”
And increased enforcement is exactly what is going to happen. The costly SBInet program was scrapped, with nothing to show for the $770 million in federal money that’s been sunk into development of a virtual monitoring system combining video and radar patrols that would have stretched 2,000 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Senators Joe Lieberman and Roland Burris, who joined McCain at the committee hearing, got few answers as to why SBInet didn’t provide any returns on the investment the federal government had already made; all in attendance uniformly agreed the program was a disaster.
That, however, has not allowed for the re-evaluation of border security policies on the whole. In SBInet’s place, CBP is increasing its “tactical infrastructure,” which includes pedestrian fences, vehicle fences, and specialized roads and lighting to monitor cross-border travel.
Obama’s budget for 2010 set aside an extra $26.1 million for 65 more CBP officers and 44 Border Patrol agents, and the expansion of the License Plate Reader program, which is supposed to inspect cars traveling into Mexico from the U.S. Congress set aside another $20 million for inspection equipment, and another $19.5 million for an extra 100 Border Patrol agents.
But at the end of 2009, there were already 20,119 Border Patrol agents around the country, a 100 percent increase in the staffing of the Border Patrol agency since just 2004. “With over 58,000 employees, Customs and Border Patrol is the largest uniformed federal law enforcement agency in the country,” said Bersin in his prepared statements.
It seems McCain is going to hammer the “our party is not safe” line, even though he completely forgets that the idea of a secure border is fictional conceit. More enforcement only results in the criminalization of migrants; untold thousands of innocent people get swept up in the border security program that sees all border crossers as potential terrorists and criminals.
McCain’s attempt to rebrand himself as the hard line enforcement-only man will, if not save McCain’s seat come election day, finally do away with whatever lingering hope immigration rights folks had of catching a glimpse of the more principled John McCain we knew from years past.