NPR Story
1:28 pm
Fri March 22, 2013

Measurements Of Border Security Remain Opaque

As it stands, immigration reform hinges on a secure border. But measurements to evaluate overall conditions and security are as opaque as ever.

In 2010, James Dinkins, the executive associate director for homeland security investigations at ICE told Congress he had started a process “to completely redo our performance measures.”

“We need not just to count outputs, and not all arrests are equivalent and don’t have the same outcome. That is what we are in the process of doing now and we hope to… start a baseline and then move into 2012 a tool to measure border conditions and security.“

But as of Wednesday, lawmakers were shocked to hear no such progress has been made. Border security is the current lynchpin of reform, the bipartisan group of senators sketching the immigration blueprint contend one cannot exist without the other.

But the Obama administration and ICE officials were quick to point out that one measurement cannot encompass the complexities of border security. The New York Times reports,

Obama administration officials said on Thursday that they had resisted producing a single measure to assess the border because the president did not want any hurdles placed on the pathway to eventual citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.

In the same article, Peter Boogaard, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, pointed out that “every metric” was showing that ICE was going in the right direction.

Effectiveness — or how successful border security is at deterring immigrants from the border — is a key metric. But the measurement is actually a clunky equation.

Effectiveness = (apprehensions + turn backs) / (estimated got aways + apprehensions + turn backs)

But estimated ”got aways,” for example, can be measured by a footstep in the dirt.

As the border security debate wages nationally, the bipartisan group of senators are looking regionally.

Under the Senate’s current blueprint, a delegation of Southwest leaders — as opposed to a single measurement — would determine when the border was safe enough to enact immigration reform.

But with the sharp divide in views among Southwest leaders —El Paso and Arizona are two good examples — maybe waiting on the elusive all-encompassing measurement would be quicker than a consensus from the leaders.

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