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June 7, 2013

Budget Gimmicks and Border Security: How Not to Fix the Problem

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The contentious immigration bill (S. 744) put together by the Senate Gang of Eight includes a number of “border security” features to be paid for by exploiting a loophole in the Budget Control Act. By designating spending in the immigration bill as “emergency requirements,” the bill would enable lawmakers to spend billions outside existing budget enforcement procedures. So much for the spending caps and sequestration procedures agreed to in 2011.

Section 6 of the bill would establish a Comprehensive Immigration Reform Trust Fund and provide $6.5 billion in funding from general revenues, which includes:

• $1 billion for startup costs, including application processing.

• $3 billion for the Comprehensive Southern Border Security Strategy over five years.

• $1.5 billion for additional fencing in high-risk border sectors over five years.

• $2 billion for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to pursue “persistent surveillance” and an effectiveness rate of 90 percent or higher over ten years.

Sens. Schumer, Graham, Durbin and Flake amended their original bill in May. One new provision is that the first $7.5 billion collected by the new immigration trust fund from visa fees and penalties for false statements in applications be paid back to the Treasury Department for deficit reduction. This is an improvement over the spend-as-you-please approach taken in the first draft. Unfortunately, it adopts a spend-now-save-later approach, effectively replacing one budget gimmick with another. Funds for the activities identified below would be authorized only after Treasury was paid back:

• $50 million per year to increase the number of border crossing prosecutions to 201 prosecutions per day, and

• $50 million each year for Operation Stonegarden (90 percent to be allocated toward grants and reimbursements to Southwest border state law enforcement agencies).

Section 1106 of the bill would provide funding for equipment and technology as necessary. That would be in addition to any appropriated funds for U.S. Customs and Border Protection from 2014 through 2018, including for agent-portable surveillance systems; unarmed, unmanned aerial vehicles (to be deployed 24/7 along the southern border); unarmed additional fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters along the southern border; and new rotocraft and upgrades to the existing helicopter fleet.

Section 1107 of the bill would provide grants as necessary for individuals residing or working in the border region who lack cellular service to purchase satellite telephone communications services able to dial 911 and equipped with GPS. Section 1107 would further provide funds as necessary for five years to purchase P25-compliant radios, which may include a multi-band option, for Southwest border federal, state and local law enforcement agents through a competitive procurement process. It also would provide funds to upgrade the Department of Justice’s communications network.

Authorizing such funding “as necessary” lacks accountability and transparency. Just how much or how little funding is necessary, and how will that be determined?

A recent article by Heritage Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, James Carafano, illustrates why the spending in this bill does not meet any objective criteria of emergency requirements. Carafano explains that, according to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, America’s borders “have never been more secure,” and the White House has not asked for this additional border security funding in more than five years. The immigration bill, however, would spend billions on border security enhancements, largely as part of a political deal in exchange for amnesty. 

-Romina Boccia, an economist, is assistant director in the Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies, where she analyzes federal spending and legislation.

First appeared in Security Systems News titled as "Immigration Bill Provides Billions for Border Security Enhancements."

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