June 27, 2013
The Arizona Republic
Several members of Arizona’s congressional delegation have called on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to release data the government collects about immigrants crossing the border illegally but refuses to make public.
The demands for more information about illegal immigration along the southern border follow an article in The Arizona Republic published July 21.
The article reported that the Department of Homeland Security routinely points to data about the number of Border Patrol apprehensions as a measure of success in reducing illegal immigration. However, the DHS refuses to release or discuss other information gathered on how many migrants evade capture, how many are caught multiple times, and what percentage of migrants successfully enter the U.S. illegally.
Republicans and Democrats from the Arizona delegation expressed concern that the refusal to release data about illegal crossings creates an incomplete and possibly misleading picture of border security. The information is particularly important now as Congress debates an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system. Part of that overhaul includes giving undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship contingent on improvements in border security.
“This important article illustrated the fact that one of the most devastating contributors to an unsecure border is the shortage of information,” U.S. Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., wrote in a July 25 letter to Napolitano.
His letter, prompted by the article, asks for DHS data and studies pertaining to border-crossing recidivism rates, apprehensions and the effectiveness of several strategies the government used to deter illegal immigration and drug trafficking, including fencing, vehicle barriers, electronic alert systems and additional Border Patrol agents.
Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican, and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, also said they plan to contact the DHS asking that more information about illegal border crossings be released.
“In Congress, there is finally a bipartisan, common-sense effort to address immigration reform. Let's seize this moment, it's good for Arizona,” Kirkpatrick said in an e-mail. “I expect a rigorous debate around measurability standards and what constitutes a secure border. Let’s make sure we have all the data and information in front of us, so we can craft good and fair policy.”
Republican Reps. David Schweikert and Trent Franks and Rep. Ron Barber, a Tucson Democrat whose district includes Arizona’s southeastern border with Mexico, said they believe the DHS needs to do a better job of sharing information to ensure that border security is achieved.
“I have been raising this issue since I went to Congress one year ago,” Barber said in an e-mail. “As a ranking member of the Oversight Subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee, I have questioned officials of the department about their poor communications with the American public and repeatedly called for greater transparency and accountability.”
Barber said he has filed amendments to a border-security bill pending in the House that would require the DHS to hold public meetings to provide critical information to border residents, other community members and the media. The bill would require the DHS to develop a comprehensive strategy for securing the border.
“This process must be followed as DHS develops its border-security strategy and establishes credible and honest measurements of success,” Barber said in the e-mail.
DHS acting press secretary Peter Boogaard said the department would respond directly to members of Congress requesting information about illegal border crossings, “not through the media.”
He said, however, that the DHS relies on multiple methods to measure border security, “each of which paints a different portion of the overall border-security picture and each of which informs tactical decision making.
“In line with this broad focus, the Administration has made significant investments in border security on a number of fronts,” Boogaard said in a written statement. “While no single metric can individually assess the state of border security, the dozens of metrics we use every day clearly demonstrate significant progress and improved quality of life at the border.”
The Republic article by reporter Bob Ortega reported that the DHS has refused to respond to the newspaper’s request for data on the number of migrants who were turned back after crossing the border illegally or got away from the Border Patrol and thus were able to successfully enter the U.S. illegally.
The Border Patrol releases information on the number of apprehensions by agents, but not on the number of migrants apprehended more than once or how many of those apprehensions are the same migrant caught multiple times. The Border Patrol does not release data on “turn-backs” or “got-aways” — people detected by agents or surveillance equipment but not caught.
The article also showed that the DHS has refused to release the same data to outside researchers, including a panel of leading statisticians, economists and demographers at the National Academy of Sciences that conducted a taxpayer-funded study on illegal immigration at the request of the DHS.
The DHS also has refused to release the results of a 2007 report by the Homeland Security Institute that studied border-crossing recidivism and the likelihood of apprehending migrants attempting to cross the border illegally, the article reported. That study, which has been updated annually, also was federally funded.
The article quoted critics who say the DHS’ failure to fully release information about illegal border crossings makes it difficult for outside researchers to analyze the effectiveness of the department’s strategy for securing the border at a time when spending on border security has soared. In the past seven years, the DHS has spent more than $106 billion on border security.
The immigration bill passed by the Senate in late June, and now languishing in the House, would provide an additional $46 billion in border-security spending and add 19,200 more Border Patrol agents along the Mexico border over the next eight years, doubling the current number.
The additional spending and agents would be used to achieve the bill’s goal of achieving an effectiveness rate of “90 percent,” meaning the DHS would capture or turn back nine migrants for every person who got away and successfully entered the country illegally.
Brian Rogers, a spokesman for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said McCain has “long been troubled by the failure of DHS to develop and make public appropriate metrics to measure our success in border security.”
“This lack of disclosure has exacerbated the lack of trust in DHS and this Administration,” Rogers said in an e-mail.
McCain and Arizona’s other senator, Republican Jeff Flake, helped add language in the immigration bill passed by the Senate that includes provisions that require the Border Patrol to report to Congress on a biannual basis objective metrics to help Congress and the public determine how successful the Border Patrol is at apprehending illegal border-crossers.
When he was a member of the House, Flake also tried to get the DHS to develop better ways to measure border security.
“It’s going to be impossible for Congress to tackle immigration reform without achieving operational control of our southern border, and the federal government can’t achieve operational control if they aren’t even using it as a metric,” Flake said in a press release in November 2012, after the House passed a bill requiring the DHS to create for congressional approval a strategy for gaining operational control of the northern and southern U.S. borders.