Right-wing media have distorted President Obama's immigration speech to claim he said border security is impossible. In fact, Obama said our immigration problems can't be solved "only with fences and border patrols" and that other measures are needed to reduce the incentives for illegal immigration, a view that has been expressed by immigration experts and several Republicans.
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Right-wing media distort Obama speech to claim he said securing border is impossible
Fox Nation: "Obama: Borders Too Vast to Secure, Fed Laws Unenforceable." Fox Nation linked to a FoxNews.com article on the president's speech with the headline, "Obama: Borders Too Vast to Secure, Fed Laws Unenforceable." From the Fox Nation:
NY Post: Obama "told us that illegal aliens cannot be stopped from crossing the border." In a July 2 column, the New York Post's Charles Hurt wrote that Obama "told us that illegal aliens cannot be stopped from crossing the border. He said that laws on the books are unenforceable."
Camerota: Obama said "it's impossible to secure the border." On the July 2 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, guest co-host Alisyn Camerota said: "Twenty-one people have been gunned down dead after a bloody battle near the Arizona border. This just hours after the president delivered his big speech on illegal immigration and says it's impossible to secure the border."
In fact, Obama said immigration problems can't be solved "only with fences and border patrols"
Obama: "Our borders are just too vast for us to be able to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols." Obama, making a case for comprehensive reform, actually said that immigration problems can't be fixed only with "fences and border patrols." From Obama's July 1 address (emphasis added):
So the bottom line is this: The southern border is more secure today than at any time in the past 20 years. That doesn't mean we don't have more work to do. We have to do that work, but it's important that we acknowledge the facts. Even as we are committed to doing what's necessary to secure our borders, even without passage of the new law, there are those who argue that we should not move forward with any other elements of reform until we have fully sealed our borders. But our borders are just too vast for us to be able to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols. It won't work. Our borders will not be secure as long as our limited resources are devoted to not only stopping gangs and potential terrorists, but also the hundreds of thousands who attempt to cross each year simply to find work.
That's why businesses must be held accountable if they break the law by deliberately hiring and exploiting undocumented workers. We've already begun to step up enforcement against the worst workplace offenders. And we're implementing and improving a system to give employers a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally. But we need to do more. We cannot continue just to look the other way as a significant portion of our economy operates outside the law. It breeds abuse and bad practices. It punishes employers who act responsibly and undercuts American workers. And ultimately, if the demand for undocumented workers falls, the incentive for people to come here illegally will decline as well.
Camerota: Obama is "probably right" that the border can't be secured through "fences and guards." Earlier in the show, Camerota herself seemed to agree with Obama's assessment, saying, "I think his quote was our border is too vast to seal with fences and guards, and he's probably right about that."
Immigration policy experts agree that border security requires comprehensive reform
Immigration policy expert: Comprehensive reform "will make the border more manageable." The Arizona Republic reported: "Susan Ginsburg, senior policy adviser for an international nonprofit known as Borderpol, which works to make international borders safer, said it is a mistake to require border control as a prerequisite for changing U.S. policies because the existing system created a broken border in the first place. 'Comprehensive immigration reform will help because it will make the border more manageable,' she said."
National Immigration Forum: "We must have comprehensive reform in order to see continued improvement in the control of our borders." The National Immigration Forum states in a document that "[w]e have achieved about as much control of our border as possible without solving the core problem. ... We must have comprehensive immigration reform in order to see continued improvement in the control of our borders." The document further states that the problem of illegal immigration "is the product of today's demand for worker and family visas clashing with an immigration system that has not been updated in 20 years."
Cato's Griswold: Controlling the border requires "allow[ing] more workers to enter the United States legally." Dan Griswold, director of Cato's Center for Trade Policy Studies, wrote on April 29 that the current immigration system "created the conditions for an underground labor market, complete with smuggling and day-labor operations" and that "[i]f we want to 'get control' of our border with Mexico, the smartest thing we could do would be to allow more workers to enter the United States legally under the umbrella of comprehensive immigration reform":
Requiring successful enforcement of the current immigration laws before they can be changed is a non sequitur. It's like saying, in 1932, that we can't repeal the nationwide prohibition on alcohol consumption until we've drastically reduced the number of moonshine stills and bootleggers. But Prohibition itself created the conditions for the rise of those underground enterprises, and the repeal of Prohibition was necessary before the government could "get control" of its unintended consequences.
Illegal immigration is the Prohibition debate of our day. By essentially barring the legal entry of low-skilled immigrant workers, our own government has created the conditions for an underground labor market, complete with smuggling and day-labor operations. As long as the government maintains this prohibition, illegal immigration will be widespread, and the cost of reducing it, in tax dollars and compromised civil liberties, will be enormous.
If we want to "get control" of our border with Mexico, the smartest thing we could do would be to allow more workers to enter the United States legally under the umbrella of comprehensive immigration reform. Then we could focus our enforcement resources on a much smaller number of people who for whatever reason are still operating outside the law.
Republicans previously acknowledged that border security requires comprehensive reform of immigration system
Sen. Lindsey Graham: "If all you did was try to secure the border, then that's a false sense of security." From a May 24, 2006, press conference:
GRAHAM: Everybody would benefit if we could solve this problem.
Here's what I've learned from people back in South Carolina, a pretty conservative state. Border security is important, but they know by itself it's a false sense of security.
If all you did was try to secure the border, then that's a false sense of security, because illegal immigration is about employment. So you've got to control employment.
And 35 percent of the people who are illegal immigrants didn't cross the border, they came through visa overstays.
So the American people accept a comprehensive solution. The Senate is going to pass one. The president supports one. I think we can get some House members understanding that it has to be comprehensive. [accessed via Nexis]
McCain: Border security "will not alone ensure our control of immigration." In a June 4, 2007, speech, Sen. John McCain stated that border security measures "will not alone ensure our control of immigration or enable us to know the identity, whereabouts and purposes of the millions of undocumented workers who are in our country now." McCain added that people will come over the border "as long as the job market in our growing economy offers opportunities to immigrants" and said of the undocumented immigrants already in the United States: "Getting these people to declare themselves and prove they have come here for a job, pose no security threat and have no criminal record beyond entering the country illegally will enable our security and law enforcement officials to concentrate their resources on those who have come here to threaten our way of life rather than embrace it." McCain has since changed his position to advocate for a border security-first approach.
Bush: "You cannot fully enforce the border" without fixing overly strict limits on legal immigration. On June 1, 2007, President Bush spoke in favor of a comprehensive immigration reform proposal and stated that providing more channels for legal entry "makes it more likely the border will be enforced":
BUSH: But I would remind people that you cannot fully enforce the border so long as people are trying to sneak into this country to do jobs Americans aren't doing. You can try, but doesn't it make sense to help the Border Patrol do their job by saying, "If you're going to come and do a job, there is a legal way to do it so you don't have to sneak across in the first place?"
If you're interested in border security, you've got to recognize that giving people a chance to come and work here on a temporary basis makes it more likely the border will be enforced.
Alberto Gonzales: "I don't think you can have effective border security unless you're also taking into account those that are here in this country illegally." During a July 18, 2006, Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, "Obviously, border security is very, very important, but I don't think you can have effective border security unless you're also taking into account those that are here in this country illegally." From the hearing:
ATTY GEN. GONZALES: More importantly, the president believes very strongly in comprehensive immigration reform. Obviously, border security is very, very important, but I don't think you can have effective border security unless you're also taking into account those that are here in this country illegally. You need to know who they are, where they're at and why they're here.
And so I think this is a problem that will only get worse over time. We need to deal with it, I think, at once. I think the American people expect the Congress and the president to deal with it at once. We know it's a tough issue, but that's what we're here to do, is try to deal with these tough issues.
Obama administration has taken measures to increase border security, immigration enforcement
LA Times: Obama admin. "has outdone its predecessor on border enforcement spending and on deportations." The Los Angeles Times reported on June 16 that Obama "agree[d] to dispatch 1,200 National Guard troops to the border and to seek an extra $500 million for border enforcement. That came after 18 months in which the Obama administration has outdone its predecessor on border enforcement spending and deportations of illegal immigrants, all in an effort to build support for a comprehensive immigration plan."
Obama admin. has increased the number of Border Patrol agents. PolitiFact has noted that Obama has been "increasing the number of border patrol officers." The Arizona Republic reported on May 26 that "[t]he Border Patrol today has more than 20,000 agents nationwide, more than 16,000 of whom are assigned to the U.S.-Mexican border" and provided the following graph:
Obama admin. significantly expanded Border Enforcement Security Task Forces. Politico reported on May 6 that "[u]nder the Southwest Border Initiative, the Obama administration has doubled agents assigned to the Border Enforcement Security Task Forces." According to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), these teams "incorporate personnel from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other key federal, state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies" to "collaborate and share information to fulfill the overarching goal: to interrupt the flow of cash, weapons and ammunition that fuel the illicit trade of the drug cartels."
Obama admin. increased number of intelligence analysts on border. Politico stated that the Obama administration "tripled the number of intelligence analysts along the southwest border" and "sent in new canine teams." The Department of Homeland Security announced these increases in March 2009.
Obama admin. began screening "100 percent of southbound rail shipments." Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 27, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano stated that "for the first time ever, the Border Patrol is screening 100 percent of southbound rail shipments for cartel-related contraband. This practice augments the longstanding practice of screening 100 percent of northbound rail shipments."
Recovery Act included funding for Border Security projects. According to DHS, the Recovery Act provided funding for Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Seizures of contraband increased under Obama administration. In her April 27 Senate testimony, Napolitano stated:
Since March 2009, CBP and ICE have seized $85.7 million in illicit cash along the Southwest border, an increase of 14 percent over the same period during the previous year. This includes more than $29.7 million in illicit cash seized heading southbound into Mexico -- a 39 percent increase over the same period during the previous year.
During the same period, CPB and ICE together seized 1,425 illegal firearms, which represent a 29 percent rise over the same period in the previous year. At the same time, CBP and ICE seized 1.65 million kilograms of drugs along the Southwest border, an overall increase of 15 percent.
Additionally, the San Diego DHS Maritime Unified Command -- comprised of U.S. Coast Guard, CBP, ICE and other law enforcement partners -- saw a more than six-fold increase in maritime drug interdictions in the Pacific waters extending from the Southwest border. The Command seized more than 26,000 kilograms of drugs in fiscal year 2009, compared to 4,029 kilograms seized in fiscal year 2008.
Deportations increased in fiscal year 2009. According to DHS, "The number of illegal aliens removed from the United States by ICE in FY 2009 was 298,401 individuals, up from 264,541 in FY 2008." Including "voluntary departures," ICE "removed 387,790 in illegal immigrants in the year ending Sept. 30, 2009, compared with 369,221 in 2008 -- a 5 percent increase," according to The Washington Post. The Post also reported that in fiscal year 2009, there was "a 19 percent rise in deportation of criminal immigrants." From DHS:
PolitiFact: "[S]pending on border security has increased" since 2007. Responding to a statement by Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), PolitiFact.com wrote on May 5 that "between 2007 and now, while spending on border fencing has gone down, overall spending on border security has increased" and added:
In 2007, discretionary spending on border security was $6.3 billion. As Pence noted, that was the last year of full Republican control. After that, while George W. Bush remained in the presidency, Congress was controlled by Democrats. But discretionary spending on border security continued to rise year after year. It went to $7.9 billion in 2008; to $9.8 billion in 2009; and to $10.1 billion in fiscal year 2010. President Barack Obama's proposed 2011 budget calls for a slight decrease in discretionary spending on border security, but even at the proposed level of $9.8 billion, that's a 55 percent increase between 2007 and 2011.
Pima County sheriff: "The border has never been more secure." The Arizona Republic reported on May 2 that Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima County, Arizona, stated: "I hear politicians on TV saying the border has gotten worse. Well, the fact of the matter is that the border has never been more secure."
AP: "The US-Mexico border is more fortified now than it was even five years ago." A June 23 Associated Press article noted: "You wouldn't know it from the public debate, but the U.S.-Mexico border is more fortified now than it was even five years ago. Far more agents patrol it, more fences, barriers and technology protect it and taxpayers are spending billions more to reinforce it."
Comprehensive immigration reform outline released by Democrats emphasizes border security
Democratic plan sets border security benchmarks that "must be met before action can be taken to adjust the status" of those currently in the U.S. illegally. The "conceptual proposal for immigration reform" recently released by Senate Democrats lists eight border security benchmarks that must be met before the government will adjust the legal status of unauthorized immigrants currently in the U.S.
Democratic plan calls for "Further Fortification of America's Border Enforcement Capability." The plan also calls for "high-tech ground sensors throughout the southern border and for equipping all border patrol officers with the technological capability to respond to activation of the ground sensors in the area they are patrolling." The proposal includes "substantial upgrades" in Border Patrol technology, a new "border patrol auxiliary unit," the "construction of additional ports-of-entry and for the hiring of thousands of new customs and border protection inspectors," and the "implementation of an entry-exit system" to track those overstaying visas. In addition, the plan "provides the Secretary of Homeland Security with the authority to deploy National Guard personnel at our borders when needed." Along with the border security measures, the proposal also calls for, among other things, the creation of "new crimes" for "trafficking and misuse of passports," sanctions on "countries that delay or prevent repatriation of their citizens," increased penalties "for violators of immigration law," and the creation of biometric Social Security cards for employment verification.
New York Times: Enforcement in Democratic plan "would be more far-reaching than anything in place now -- or anything proposed by" Bush. In an April 30 news analysis, The New York Times stated of the Democrats' immigration reform outline: "The enforcement would be more far-reaching than anything in place now -- or anything proposed by the administration of President George W. Bush. It begins with 'zero tolerance' for immigrants trying to enter the country illegally, by tightening border enforcement and by barring them from taking jobs in the United States."
Cornyn: Democratic plan's "emphasis on border enforcement was certainly encouraging." The New York Times reported that Sen. John Conryn (R-TX) "said the 'emphasis on border enforcement was certainly encouraging,' but, he said, Congress should not wait for the whole package to pass before financing new border security measures."
FoxNews.com: "Senate Dem Leaders Take 'Border Security First' Approach to Immigration." An April 28 FoxNews.com blog post reported that the plan outlined by Senate leaders "sets tough border security standards as a precursor to illegal immigrants finding a pathway to U.S. citizenship" and "contains a number of items not previously in reform bills with a heavy focus on border enforcement as a benchmark."
Wash. Post: Dems' plan "includes a slew of new immigration enforcement measures." The Washington Post posted a news analysis titled, "Senate Democrats' plan highlights nation's shift to the right on immigration," which stated:
The Democrats' legislative "framework" includes a slew of new immigration enforcement measures aimed at U.S. borders and workplaces. It would further expand the 20,000-member Border Patrol; triple fines against U.S. employers that hire illegal immigrants; and, most controversially, require all American workers -- citizens and non-citizens alike -- to get new Social Security cards linked to their fingerprints to ease work eligibility checks.
The plan's emphasis on "securing the border first" before taking steps to allow many of an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States to pay fines and apply for legal status was plainly a gesture to Republicans. Even so, no Republican is supporting it, not even Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who has been working with Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) in bipartisan talks over the issue for months.