OPINION

Fix the Debt to Secure the Border

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I was born in Texas, grew up along the U.S.-Mexico border and have lived and worked in both countries. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of securing our border while allowing free trade, and the importance of living within your means. These are things our government has struggled to do for a decade.

With momentum building to advance comprehensive immigration reform, it appears that Congress is moving in the right direction, but we must also look to address the concerns expressed about border security.

Residents of border states like New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and California need to know not only that the economy is on the right track, but also that the agencies tasked with protecting our borders are protected from short-term political whim.

- Antonio Garza

The reality is that border security, immigration and our country’s budget problems are inextricably linked. If we hope to enact successful immigration reform, we must make sure that our country is on firm enough fiscal ground to properly enforce new policies.

Our ability to control our borders is even now being threatened by sequestration, or the drastic across-the-board spending cuts required when Congress failed to reach a compromise on reducing the deficit earlier this year. Sequestration now threatens not only border security but also the international trade that is so vital to our economies.

As the full impact of sequestration sets in, we are seeing more and more agencies request individual exemptions and look for other ways to work within their budgets and around the sequester to avoid harmful furloughs and program cuts.

Customs and Border Protection recently asked Congress for permission to transfer money within its budget in order to avoid furloughing border agents due to the required sequestration cuts. Congress now has 30 days to approve the proposed measure from Customs and Border Protection. This is good news for America’s border states that depend on the agency for their safety and well-being and for facilitating the free flow of trade, but bad news for our long-term budget outlook. Though I believe the sequester is bad policy, we should replace it with smart savings in other areas rather than simply repeal it. We cannot address our debt problems if we enact budgetary savings only to repeal them months later.

Congress’ inability to deal with our debt is what got us in this sequestration trouble in the first place. The lack of respect for deadlines in solving our debt problems goes back to 2011 when Congress and the White House couldn’t reach an agreement on the debt ceiling, and the sequester idea was born. Politicians put the sequester in place to hold themselves hostage to the “Fiscal Cliff” deadline on New Year’s Eve, but missed the deadline and delayed the sequester. Congress’ later failure to avoid sequestration in March added fiscal insult to injury.

In order to ensure that our borders are secure and our immigration policy works, we need to give the agencies tasked with those duties the stable political environment and resources required to do the job. We need a comprehensive fiscal plan that stabilizes our economy for the foreseeable future, and we need to replace the sequester cuts with smart deficit reduction from all sides of the ledger. We cannot continue to let half-baked policy ideas aimed at avoiding continually renewing deadlines get in the way of smart policy that secures our future.

That’s why I’ve been a vocal advocate of the nonpartisan Campaign to Fix the Debt. America cannot continue to operate on a week-to-week schedule as Congress continuously creates artificial crises and then fails to respond to them.   

Residents of border states like New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and California need to know not only that the economy is on the right track, but also that the agencies tasked with protecting our borders are protected from short-term political whim.

My hope is that we see Congress and the White House come to their senses and enact a workable compromise plan to address the deficit so that we can ensure a secure border and robust trade, address immigration concerns, and put our nation back on track with a plan that ensures we live within our means.

Antonio Garza served as U.S. Ambassador to Mexico from 2002-2009. Mr. Garza is now counsel in the Mexico City office of White & Case and Chairman of Vianovo Ventures. He currently serves on the Council of the Americas' Advisory Group on Immigration and can be found online at www.tonygarza.com

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