Immigration bill may set funding, regulatory gaps in border security

The Senate’s pending immigration bill sets aside $3.5 billion for additional surveillance of the country’s southern border, or roughly $1.79 million per mile of the 1,954 mile border, according to leaked reports in The New York Times and other media.

But $3.5 billion is only a small portion of what opponents and advocates say would be needed to stop illegal immigrants from crossing the border to seek low-wage jobs in communities where many American families are already struggling to make a decent living.

The 1,500-page bill will provide conditional legalization to at least 11 million illegal immigrants. Initially, applicants would get work permits, but they would be allowed to get valuable green cards after five years, and then citizenship, if government officials declare the border is fully monitored and the illegal inflow through some portions has been cut by 90 percent.

The border regulation is said by advocates for large-scale immigration to be a “trigger” that has to be met before illegals get to become citizens.

The bill ensures there is “no ability to earn citizenship for at least 13 years after bill is enacted, AND border security and interior enforcement is in place,” said an April 11 tweet from Cesar Conda, chief of staff for Sen. Marco Rubio.

Homeland Security may receive $2 billion in additional funding after five years, if the surveillance and enforcement goals are not met.

The bill is set for release by early next week, after months of back-room negotiations.

But immigration-reformers say the vague language used by the bill’s advocates — “monitored” for example — will make real security impossible in the face of political and courtroom opposition from wealthy immigrant, business and progressive lobbies.

“It seems that they are planning to make a few cosmetic improvements at the border just so they can get to the legalization phase,” according to Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

“The triggers are nothing but fig leaves to dupe gullible Republicans,” according to Mark Krikorian, the director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Krikorian favors a stronger enforcement trigger, such as the withholding of benefits until workplace data shows that multiple security procedures are working. Without such a trigger, there is little to stop politicians from providing the benefits of legalization to at least 11 million illegal immigrants and to many employers of low-wage labor, say critics.

The failure of the so-called trigger would leave the public with the problems and costs of legalization and of continued illegal immigration, say Krikorian and other critics. “Based on the reports I have seen about what is in the bill, the …  border security goals will have no effect on the next stages of amnesty — green cards and citizenship,” said Mehlman.

Since 1990, workplace competition from legal and illegal immigrants cut wages for lower-skilled Americans by roughly $402 billion per year, according to a recent analysis by George Borjas, a Harvard labor economist.

The allocation of only $3.5 billion may make the border monitoring task financially impossible too.

In January 2011, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano canceled a much-touted high-tech surveillance system, dubbed the Secure Border Initiative. The system cost $1 billion, yet it sought to guard only 53 miles, or two percent of the border.

The cost of maintaining a complete border fence for 25 years will cost from $300 million to $1.7 billion per mile, depending on materials, a nonpartisan group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, claimed in 2008.