Half a Million Troops Could Seal the Southwest Border, Says Border Protection Chief

August 5, 2011 - 3:45 AM

Alan Bersin

U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner Alan Bersin said during a discussion at the Center for American Progress on Aug. 4 that the U.S. border with Mexico could “theoretically” be sealed. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – Sealing the border between the United States and Mexico completely is “theoretically” possible, but Americans would not want to pay “the costs that would be involved,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioner Alan Bersin said Thursday.

He was speaking at an event to release a report by the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP), claiming the southwest border is safer than it ever has been.

“We would need on the order of about four or five hundred thousand border patrol agents to seal the border,” Bersin said, adding that such a plan would involve having agents stationed “25 yards” apart along the entire length of the border.

Bersin’s remarks came after he was questioned about sealing the border by CAP immigration policy director Marshall Fitz. Bersin and Fitz joined Doris Meissner, who served as commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service during the Clinton administration, to discuss border security and release the CAP report, Safer Than Ever, A View from the U.S.-Mexico Border: Assessing the Past, Present and Future.

Fitz said he wanted to ask Bersin “about the impossibility of an absolute seal,” and what he characterized as unrealistic intent of 2006 legislation mandating a fence be built along the southwest border.

Fitz said for “the average American, who doesn’t think a lot about this and considers the United States the most powerful country in the history of the world,” it might not seem “unrealistic to think that we could actually seal the border.”

He said that the U.S. Congress, in passing the Secure Fence Act of 2006, “suggests that that is viable.”

Bersin responded by saying most Americans understand that a “zero crime rate” is not possible, adding that the border issue is more a political than a practical one.

“The difficulty is not that the American people wouldn’t understand it, it’s that there’s a volatility of border politics,” he said. “So that any particular incident gets blown into this conflagration that somehow things are out of control in ways that people are quite used to in their neighborhood.

“The occurrence of a crime in the community doesn’t lead people to believe that their entire community is lawless,” Bersin said.

He said he favored the “satisfactory control of the border that I think we are moving toward.”

Doris Meissner

Doris Meissner, commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Clinton administration, said told the event her agency had changed the model of immigration enforcement. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

Meissner credited the Clinton administration, and the agency she headed in particular, with changing the model of enforcing immigration law from strictly a personnel issue to a strategy that includes a “mix of resources,” including personnel, technology and other support infrastructure.

All three panelists argued that a reduction in apprehensions along the border suggests a more secure border. The CAP report authored by Fitz shows striking differences in apprehension rates between 2000 and 2010.

In the Tucson, Arizona sector – the area all agreed has the highest number of illegal crossings – 616,346 people were taken into custody in 2000, compared with 212,202 in 2010. In the El Paso, Texas, sector the number dropped from 285,781 in 2000 to 12, 251 in 2010.

Meissner accused critics of the Obama administration’s immigration policies of “stirring the pot,” although she also admitted that in Arizona “there is not yet the level of control that you want.”

In his report, Fitz targeted Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, calling him and his allies “restrictionists.”

“The unreasonable position advanced by the restrictionists is that 100 percent of the border must be subject to the most stringent standard, i.e. controlled,” he wrote.

“Rep. Smith is effectively demanding an absolute seal of the border – an unattainable objective – as a precondition to discussion of broader immigration reforms.”

Smith’s office did not immediately respond to a CNSNews.com request to comment on the report.