Former GAO Official Talks Straight on Finding a Balance Between Border Security and Interior Security

By Jerry Kammer on July 26, 2013

My favorite government agency is the Government Accountability Office. Not only are they frequently the smartest people in the room, they have no political agenda. So they don't have an eye on the next election, and they don't give a damn about the exploding heads on cable TV.

This week, a hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security included testimony from Richard Stana, the highly respected, longtime GAO guru on border issues, who is now retired. I hope Stana's message got through to those who supported the ridiculously expensive "border surge" in the Senate bill, while finding no room for the badly-needed amendment proposed by Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.). The amendment was an attempt to strengthen an E-Verify program that is now highly vulnerable to fraud.

Thus spoke Stana:

While the subject of today's hearing is on border security, these and other issues need to be assessed in the context of a holistic framework if immigration control and reform efforts are to yield an efficient, effective, economical, and sustainable result.

In this regard, estimates show that roughly 40 percent to 50 percent of the illegal immigrant population is made up of people who entered the United States legally and overstayed their visa. And many illegal immigrants are drawn to the United States for work and eventually find jobs with employers who have come to rely on this labor pool with little likelihood of incurring fines and sanctions.

To what extent might the broader illegal immigration problem be addressed by devoting more resources to interior enforcement and an E-verify system rather than substantially increasing staffing and other resources at the border?

Achieving an appropriate balance between border and interior enforcement could help create a credible framework for deterring those considering illegal entry and overstay.

The hearing was chaired by Rep Candice Miller (R-Mich.), who expressed an opinion that is widely shared in Congress. Said Miller: "Immigration reform, in my mind, will not happen without the public, the American people, having a very high degree of confidence that their government is committed to enforcing the nation's immigration laws and following through on our border security promises."

Here's a pivotal question that will be in play during the coming months, in the drive to pass an immigration bill and prove that Congress can get things done: Will they understand that the worksite is the second border, or will they continue to throw billions at the Border Patrol and the border-industrial complex? Will they face up to the problem or continue to put on a show?