Border Gets Spotlight In President’s Budget, Gang Of Eight Bill

In the span of just two weeks, two major events in Washington could have profoundly positive effects on the U.S.-Mexico border.

First, the president released his budget, offering up for debate with Congress a plan to devote new and needed resources to the ports of entry that every day processes billions of dollars in cross-border trade and travel. The president’s budget, through a mix of direct appropriations and user fees, calls for adding nearly 3,500 new Customs and Border Protection officers.

There are proven strategies for detecting illegal crossings that don’t require fencing through border communities. Technology is the way forward.

- Nelson Balido

This is a potentially huge economic impact for the border. In a new study by the National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events at the University of Southern California, researchers found that adding just one new CBP officer at the nation’s busiest land and airports could lead to an increase of $61.8 million in GDP and over 1,000 new jobs, or 33 jobs per new CBP officer.

This confirms much of what border watchers already know, but it’s always nice to get third party validation. Increased resources at the ports leads to decreased wait times, which means reduced headaches for travelers and reduced costs to business — costs that would otherwise get passed on to customers. Better borders mean a better economy.

The border also figures prominently in the groundbreaking immigration proposal put forth by the bipartisan “Gang of Eight.” The bill seeks to dramatically increase border security, aiming for a 90 percent effectiveness rate, which is determined by the number of apprehensions and turn backs in a specific sector divided by the total number of illegal entries. In other words, the more illegal entries stopped by Border Patrol, the higher the effectiveness rate.

There’s also a lot of good news for those of us who have been clamoring for increased personnel and technology. The Gang’s bill calls for $3 billion for new surveillance equipment, unmanned aerial systems, fixed wing aircraft an increase in Border Patrol agents and 3,500 new CBP officers.

But the bill also calls for $1.5 billion to implement a “Southern Border Fencing Strategy” while calling on the National Guard to assist in the construction of double and triple-layer fencing. Don’t get me wrong: I know the politics of an immigration overhaul will likely mean that fencing will figure into any deal that passes Congress. But I still must advise members of Congress that there are proven strategies for detecting illegal crossings that don’t require fencing through border communities. Technology is the way forward.

These are important times for the border, and we’re going to see even more attention focused at the vast expanse between San Diego and Brownsville over the summer as debate ramps up on the immigration bill. These bills are not perfect, but they have the chance to show that Congress can be a relevant institution by moving bipartisan solutions forward. The border stands to be a beneficiary.

Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.  Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido

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