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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Byron York
Friday, March 29, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
 

If Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform, it will depend on the Obama administration to enforce the law. How might that work?

Immigration reform depends on a secure border. Nearly every lawmaker pushing reform, and certainly every Republican, stresses that the border must be proved secure before millions of currently illegal immigrants can be placed on a path to citizenship.

But how do you measure border security? For years, the government estimated the number of miles of the border that were under “operational control” and came up with various ways to define what that meant.

Then the Department of Homeland Security threw out the concept of operational control, which Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called “archaic.” The administration promised to create something called the Border Condition Index, or BCI, which would be a “holistic” (and a far better) measure of border security.

Time passed, with no BCI. “Nearly three years later, the department has not produced this measure, so at this hearing, we will be asking for a status of the BCI, what measures it will take into account and when it might be ready,” subcommittee chairwoman Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., said before a hearing into the matter.

So imagine everyone's surprise when Mark Borkowski, a top Homeland Security technology official, told Miller that not only was BCI not ready, but that it won't measure border security and was never meant to.

“I don't believe that we intend, at least at this point, that the BCI would be a tool for the measurement that you're suggesting,” Borkowski told Miller. “The BCI is part of a set of information that advises us on where we are and, most importantly, what the trends are ... It is not our intent, at least not immediately, that it would be the measure you are talking about.”

Miller appeared stunned and practically begged Borkowski, along with two other Homeland Security officials who were testifying, to tell her what she wanted to hear.

She never got an answer.

Said Rep. Ron Barber, D-Ariz., “The Border Patrol rolled out last May a new strategy that didn't have goals, didn't have metrics, didn't have a process for evaluation. That's not really a plan, is it?”

A related issue: As reform supporters often point out, a large number of illegal immigrants — more than 40 percent — did not cross the border illegally. Rather, they came legally, with a visa, and then never left. Members of the Senate “Gang of Eight” are promising tough new measures to deal with so-called visa overstays.

But like the case of border security, Congress has passed law after law, going back to 1996, requiring the executive branch to crack down on overstays. The promised enforcement has never happened.

Among the measures: The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996; the Immigration and Naturalization Service Data Management Improvement Act of 2000; the USA Patriot Act of 2001; the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002; and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. All directed the executive branch to stop visa overstays, but the problem remains.

Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

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