Commentary

By Dianne Feinstein
Originally appeared in the Fresno Bee

For the past 10 years, Congress has tried to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill to bring sense to U.S. immigration laws. And for 10 years, Congress has failed.

During those years, one of the biggest obstacles to passing a law has been the insistence that the U.S.-Mexico border must be secure before any bill can be considered.

While this demand has remained constant, the border has become more and more secure over the years, ultimately undermining the argument. In fact, new data released by the Department of Homeland Security confirm the southern border is more secure than it has been in decades.

Much of the outcry against legislative and administrative action to bring about immigration reform is based on false fears that the border is insecure, but the facts indicate otherwise.

After the 2007 comprehensive immigration reform bill failed to advance in the Senate during the Bush administration, supporters acknowledged that fears about border security were largely to blame. Congress and the president took a step back and focused on securing the border in an attempt to build consensus.

When President Barack Obama moved into the White House, he took up this call and has been especially active. He partnered with Congress to significantly increase border security and increase workplace enforcement through the voluntary employment verification program known as E-Verify.

Data compiled by the Department of Homeland Security demonstrate the effectiveness of the president's efforts. He has nearly doubled the number of border patrol agents along the Mexican border. Ten years ago, there were 10,000 border patrol agents. Today that number has surged to 18,164.

The amount of border fences and other barriers has also grown rapidly, more than doubling. In 2008, there were only 267 miles of border fencing. Today that number stands at 652 miles.

The number of ground surveillance systems, or ground sensors, has also more than doubled, from 6,712 in 2008 to 12,722 today. And the number of unmanned aircraft on patrol is up from four in 2008 to nine today.

Over the past decade, the number of employers participating in E-Verify has increased dramatically, from 3,478 in 2004 to 482,692 as of 2013. And the number of E-Verify inquiries made by employers to ascertain work eligibility has ballooned from 700,000 in 2004 to more than 23 million in 2013.

The federal government has also significantly boosted support to local law enforcement agencies in southern border communities through grant programs like Operation Stonegarden.

In large part due to such improved border security, the population of undocumented immigrants in the United States has leveled off since 2007. After increasing from 5.7 million in 1995 to 12.2 million in 2007, the undocumented immigrant population has dipped to 11.3 million today.

And while these investments have helped strengthen the border, the Senate-passed Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Modernization Act goes even further to dispel concerns and gain bipartisan support.

The bill includes an aggressive border security package that provides an unprecedented $46 billion over 10 years for border security. It requires the deployment of 38,405 trained, full-time Border Patrol agents and mandates the completion of additional fencing along our southern border. It also requires that all employers use E-Verify.

Given the results in border security achieved since 2008, it's difficult to argue that the Senate bill, which would add an additional 20,000 Border Patrol agents and allocate billions of dollars toward border security, does not do enough.

Yet we find ourselves mired in this false fear of lax border security. The House of Representatives refuses to even debate the bipartisan Senate bill, using recent humanitarian tragedies as the excuse.

In fact, one could argue the recent border emergency involving unaccompanied immigrant children actually demonstrates the effectiveness of our security. Immigration officers apprehended and processed thousands of unaccompanied children and families, despite the failure of Congress to provide emergency funding for additional resources.

The bottom line is that the southern border is more secure than ever, and the border security package included in the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform bill would further lock it down.

There is no excuse to delay action on a reform bill pending additional action on border security. Let's do what's right for the country and get this done.

Dianne Feinstein represents California in the U.S. Senate and authored the agricultural worker provisions in the Senate's comprehensive immigration bill. Readers may contact the senator through her website at: feinstein.senate.gov/contact.