Napolitano Touts New ‘Index’ to Measure Southwest Border Security But Border Patrol Union Skeptical

Penny Starr | May 9, 2011 | 12:56pm EDT
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Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

( – Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano said in her prepared testimony last week before Congress that the agency is creating a new index “to comprehensively measure security along the Southwest border and the quality of life in the region.” But a spokesman for a Border Patrol union said he was skeptical of any new index that did not seek to track the number of illegal aliens who actually get away and escape into the United States.

The new index touted by Napolitano before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on May 4 would replace the current metrics used to measure security including, for example, “operational control” of the U.S.-Mexico border, which is also referred to as “effective control.”

According to DHS, as reported by the General Accountability Office, operational/effective control is defined “as the number of border miles where Border Patrol had the ability to detect, respond, and interdict cross-border illegal activity.”

Simply put, a border mile under operational control is a place on the border where the U.S. government can be reasonably expected to intercept an illegal crosser.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of committee, asked Napolitano at the hearing whether it was possible to have total operational control of the U.S. southwest border with Mexico as defined by the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

“And, I quote,” Lieberman said, ‘As the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics and other contraband,’ end quote.”

Lieberman said he doubted the border could be completely secure, which led Napolitano to label the term “operational control” as “archaic” and part of the reason why a new tool to measure border security was needed.

“That is why we’ve gone back and said, ‘Look, operational control, it’s an archaic term – I think that was testified to by some of the other witnesses you’ve had in this area,” Napolitano said. “It’s a limited term of art. It makes for a sound byte but it doesn’t actually reflect the reality of what’s happening at the border.”

“But the fact of the matter is that we need a more quantitative and qualitative way to reflect what actually is happening at the border. That’s what I’ve directed CBP to prepare,” Napolitano said. (CBP is the acronym for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which is a component of the Department of Homeland Security.)

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Shawn Moran, a Border Patrol agent in the San Diego sector and vice president of the National Border Patrol Council labor union, said he has not heard about new ways to measure border security but he is skeptical of such a move.

“Any sort of metric that DHS comes up with I think is – I’m going to be skeptical about from the get go,” Moran told “Until they actually address the problem of the people who get past us and find a real way to measure that, they’re never going to have a real picture of what’s going on, on the border.”

The National Border Patrol Council, founded in 1967, is a labor union that represents 17,000 Border Patrol Agents and support staff, and is part of the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO.

Moran said of the three measurements currently used to determine border security – apprehensions; those sent back to Mexico or “turned back south”; and “got aways,” or those who escape into the United States -- the individuals that get away represent the most important number but that this is least often measured or addressed.

“I’ve heard for the 14 years that I’ve been in this organization -- in the Border Patrol – that we have 12 million illegal aliens in the country,” Moran said. “Well, I don’t think that’s true because I know that there are hundreds of thousands getting past us every year,  so there’s no way that number has remained static.”

In her written testimony, Napolitano cited some specifics of the new index, which she wrote would include “traditional measures” but also other indicators.

“This index would take into account traditional measures such as apprehensions and contraband seizures, state and local crime statistics on border-related criminal activity, and overall crime index reporting,” the testimony states. “But to fully evaluate the condition of the border and the effectiveness of our efforts, this index would also incorporate indicators of the impact of illegal cross-border activity on the quality of life in the border region.”

“This may include calls from hospitals to report suspected illegal aliens, traffic accidents involving illegal aliens or narcotics smugglers, rates of vehicle theft and numbers of abandoned vehicles, impacts on property values, and other measures of economic activity and environmental impacts,” says Napolitano’s testimony.

The testimony also says the CBP is “working with outside experts and stakeholders to further guide what data to include.”

At the hearing, however, when questioned by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) about specifics of the index, Napolitano did not reveal the details in her written testimony.

“I am waiting for CBP – they are already in this process – to come back to me, but I believe it conceivable that we could have two different entities, one for the northern and one for the southern, because they are different,” Napolitano said. “But I don’t think we concluded that.”

“And the index may be a range, which will reflect overall efforts at the border,” Napolitano said, adding that what she knew “for sure” was that relying specifically on the number of apprehensions or using metrics like “operational control” “doesn’t cut it,” she said.

A CBP agent watches people watches the Mexico-U.S. border in Imperial Valley, California. (Photo: U.S. Border Patrol/Gerald L. Nino)

“We have to have something more quantitative and qualitative that you can use in allocated resources and we can use as well,” Napolitano said.

Moran said no index or set of metrics will solve what he says is the reason illegal aliens continue to stream across the border from Mexico into the United States.

“They can do the smoke and mirrors all they want, we know that we’re not catching everything coming across that border, and we’re never going to until we actually go after the real problem, which is the employers that are hiring illegal aliens,” Moran said.

“Secretary Napolitano and all the senior leadership of Border Patrol and ICE, they’ve all got their head in the sand,” Moran said. “They just think if they ignore the problem, it’ll just go away.”

“No one wants to go out and do interior enforcement and do workplace enforcement and that’s the only thing that’s really going to make the border secure,” Moran said.

Napolitano did not say in her remarks or written testimony when the new index will be complete or put into place.

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