The House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hosted a hearing Tuesday morning on the definition of “Operational Control” of the border. The Congressmen in attendance were Candice Miller (Subcommittee Chairwoman) of Michigan, freshman Representative Ben Quayle (Subcommittee Vice-Chairman) of Arizona, Mike Rogers of Alabama, Jeff Duncan the freshman Member from South Carolina, Henry Cuellar (Subcommittee Ranking Member) of Texas, Bennie Thompson (Committee Ranking Member) from Mississippi, Loretta Sanchez of California, Freshman Representatives Brian Higgens of New York and Hansen Clarke of Michigan, along with Donna Christensen the delegate for the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The witnesses were Chief Michael J. Fisher of the U.S. Border Patrol, Mayor Raul G. Salinas of Laredo, Texas, and Richard Stana with the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Considering recent news stories about certain U.S. Senators ready to “deal” on immigration pending the Administration’s ability to pass legislation securing the border, it has become important to define the meaning of “operational control.” Chairwoman Miller even admitted that “it’s starting to become a buzz word…but we really don’t know what it means.”
The 2006 Secure Fence Act defined “operational control” as “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.” However, it has become clear that the Administration is having trouble meeting the terms of this definition because they have been prioritizing terrorism prevention and narcotics control above other unlawful entries.
Considering the limited man power against a vast border, it’s understandable that we should focus first on securing our nation from terrorists and drugs, yet doing so is not equate operational control as defined by law. The purpose of this hearing was to assert the legal meaning of “control” and find out exactly where the Department of Homeland Security is in meeting this goal.
As I mentioned in my previous blog, opening statements are often used to simply claim a position for the audience and present material for the staff to comprehend. The witnesses and committee leaders, for the most part, used the same numbers and arguments from previous Congressional hearings and press releases. Mr. Stana even testified before the House Judiciary Committee about E-Verify four days ago. Nevertheless, this was a successful and entertaining hearing because of the question and answer period between the Members of the Committee and the witnesses.
While Ranking Member Cuellar asserted that border communities are not lawless communities, many of the questions concerned illegal entry and why migrant border crossings are not considered part of the “operational control” strategy. Rep. Duncan even boldly said that “the acceptable level of operational control is total control of the southern border” and that “entering into this country through illegal means is against the law” instead of a matter of priority. Rep. Rogers went a step further and asked why the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) would come up with a functioning definition instead of what is written in the law.
Some of the best insight into this problem came from Richard Stana with the GAO. He mentioned that we have a missing a numerator; a number of apprehensions without knowing how many there were to apprehend. Stana said, “you have to have the numerator and denominator to judge performance.”
Chief Fisher then defended the CBP by saying that he wants to measure entries against apprehensions to have a better sense of the denominator. Rep. Ben Quayle then made a great point when he asked “if we simply stopped apprehensions under the current formula wouldn’t we see reports about complete operational control of the border.” Stana agreed that there needed to be a better context for what exactly makes up the numerator. The underlying problem is the unknown quotient of how many illegal aliens are slipping through the cracks.
Tuesday’s hearing appears to be the first of many border related hearings in the Homeland Security Committee this Congress. In order to have the best border security taxpayer money can buy, it’s important to continually ask the tough questions and demand accountability.
With a possible immigration bill being discussed in the Senate, control of our border is an issue that’s starting to heat up in the minds of Congress even though it never stopped being a concern of the general public. In closing, As Mike Rogers said, “we are going to keep coming back to this until you tell us what you need.”
JONATHAN OSBORNE is the Chief Legislative Analyst for NumbersUSA