On Wednesday, a glimpse of the anticipated immigration reform bill emerged. The so-called "Gang of Eight", a bipartisan group of Senators working on the legislation, agreed on broad measures that start with border security.
The bill gives the Department of Homeland Security 10 years to meet lofty enforcement goals. Here are a few:
Continuous surveillance of 100 percent of the United States border and 90 percent effectiveness of enforcement in several high-risk sectors — and for other workplace and visa enforcement measures.
But maybe the largest compromise struck between the Senators is a green light, allowing immigration legislation to proceed without any specific border security requirements standing as roadblocks. Simply, immigrants applying for visas won't be effected if DHS doesn't produce such results.
For advocates, that's a good thing because "90 percent effectiveness" is a tough goal to accomplish.
As of now, Department of Homeland Security measures effectiveness through a complicated equation that can't be universally applied across the border.
Problems with the equation
Here's how it reads:
Effectiveness = (apprehensions + turn backs) / (estimated got aways + apprehensions + turn backs)
One problem, "turn backs" (people who fled back to Mexico) and "estimated got aways" (people who successfully entered the U.S.) are measured differently in different sectors.
But, "estimated got aways" is a tricky piece in the puzzle. It can be measured by anything from a camera catching a person running away to footsteps in the desert.
And with the use of powerful sensors on drones, its been discovered the actual number of "got aways" is a lot higher than the estimate. The Center For Investigative Reporting explored how the new drone radar was casting doubts on Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's claims that the border was as secure as it's going to get.
In one week in January, for instance, the sensor detected 355 “dismounts,” or on-foot movement, on the U.S. side of the border in Arizona. Border Patrol agents caught 125 of those, about 35 percent, while an additional 141 people evaded apprehension and 87 more turned back south to Mexico. Two were unaccounted for.
Another report that highlights what the radar system detected from October to mid-January underscores the agency’s struggle to measure results and shows conflicting numbers. Border Patrol agents apprehended 1,874 crossers that the sensor identified, but 1,962 more escaped capture.
Although this sensor has proved successful, it's questionable if the fleet of 10 drones flown across the border are as well. With the call for more drones we found that they have yet to prove their worth:
Government purchased each drone for $18 million a piece, for a total of $180 million.
They cost a little more than $3,000 per hour to operate
The border drones flew more than 5,700 hours in fiscal year 2012, according to CBP, for a total operating cost of at least $18 million last year.
What did we get for that cost?
According to CBP, in 2012 drones helped seize more than 66,000 lbs. of drugs and helped agents apprehend a 143 people involved in illegal activity.
That’s less than 3 percent of all drugs seized by border agents last year, and less than 0.04 percent of the 365,000 would-be illegal border crossers caught by agents.
In this bill, the Department of Homeland Security would have six months and $3.5 billion to create a five-year border security plan. No immigrants living without documents in the U.S. would be able to apply for citizenship until this plan was put in place.
After five years, effectiveness needs to reach 90 percent. If it's not met, Homeland Security must re-examine how to reach its goals — but immigrants will continue on their path to citizenship.