Four Nuggets from the Senate Homeland Security Committee Hearing

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on May 7, 2013

The U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing today to examine the Gang of Eight's immigration reform bill, which is titled "The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act". It featured several interesting exchanges between individual senators and DHS witnesses, including Border Patrol chief Michael Fisher and Anne Richards, an auditor in the DHS Inspector General's office.

Here are excerpts from four of the exchanges. The senators were three Republicans: Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, and John McCain of Arizona. Fisher's response to McCain wins my nomination for borderlands diplomatic evasion of the year.

  1. COBURN: A path to citizenship is in this bill, and it's based on the fact that the border is going to be controlled. ... And if, in fact, the American people can't trust that the border is controlled, you're not going to be able to pass this bill. So you're going to have to help us figure out how to do it. ... Why is 90 percent considered effective control of the border?

    FISHER: When my staff asked the question: "Well, chief, why is it at or in excess of 90 percent", I said basically because it's an "A". If you're going to set a goal for border security and national security anything less than — at a minimum 90 percent — would be untenable in terms of a goal.

    COBURN: Why 90 percent? Why not 98 percent? ... If we're going to get immigration reform through, if you're going to get it through the House, we're going to have to do a whole lot more on what is the definition of a controlled border than what is in this bill. ... So if, in fact, we really want this to happen, we have to start addressing this now. ... The political reality is the American people want to know the border's controlled and when we say 90 percent it's controlled they're saying, "Well, that means 10 percent of it isn't."

  2. COBURN: Ms. Richards, How would you characterize DHS's department track record in planning and executing major, sophisticated border security programs?

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    RICHARDS: I'd have to say that based on our work and GAO's work, their track record has been admittedly lackluster to date. Again, however, I would say that they have put a lot of time and effort into putting the skeleton into place so that they can make major improvements on those processes.

  3. JOHNSON: So the department spends approximately $50 billion per year, and we're not doing that planning now, with the $50 billion we're already spending?

    RICHARDS: I can only speak to the programs we've audited. And in those programs we find that they are not doing a good job of doing those detailed plans before they spend the money.

  4. MCCAIN: There's a problem with the Native Americans because of tribal sovereignty.

    FISHER: Senator, it does, like [with] many communities, take an ongoing dialogue to be able to make sure that when we're operating in those environments along with those communities that there's an ongoing collaboration, integration, and certainly communication, and we continue to do that.