WASHINGTON — Chairman Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (HSGAC) heard from witnesses Tuesday who testified that the U.S.-Mexico border is not secure.
The hearing, “Securing the Southwest Border: Perspectives from Beyond the Beltway,” is the first in a series of hearings and public roundtables, Senator Johnson said, that will lay out the reality of the situation America is dealing with and provide information that policy makers need to come up with solutions. “The problem is exacerbated by a lack of information,” Johnson said. “We don’t know for sure how many people today are ‘living in the shadows.’” He stressed, “If we’re going to start working towards solutions, if we’re going to start analyzing this problem, we need a whole lot more information than we currently have.”
Senator Johnson began Tuesday’s hearing by reading through a timeline of legislation that has attempted to address illegal immigration over the past 40 years. “In 1986, we passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act,” he said. “At the time, the estimate was there was slightly less than 4 million immigrants that were in this country illegally.” Johnson went on to list legislation from 1990, 1996, 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2006. He ended with the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act in 2007, saying that, by that point, the number of immigrants in America illegally was almost up to 12 million. “We have been passing law after law after law,” said Senator Johnson, “and at some point in time we have to ask the question: Do these laws work? Are we solving the problem? And if not, why not?”
Senator Johnson and the committee heard from witnesses Chris Cabrera, a Border Patrol agent in the Rio Grande Valley Sector, Mark Dannels, Sheriff of Cochise County, Arizona, Howard Buffett, an Arizona landowner, Othal Brand, a Texas farmer, and Monica Weisberg-Stewart, chairwoman of the Committee on Immigration and Border Security.
“I want to be crystal clear – the border is not secure,” Cabrera testified. “That is not just my opinion or the position of the [National Border Patrol Council]. Ask any line agent in the field, and he or she will tell you that at best we apprehend 35 to 40 percent of the illegal immigrants attempting to cross. This number is even lower for drug smugglers who are much more adept at eluding capture.”
“How certain are you of that?” Senator Johnson asked, inquiring about the source of the number.
Cabrera explained that there are large areas of land left uncovered — up to 20 to 30 miles in certain places. “I’ve been told by our chief of our sector that we are going to bleed heavily on our flanks at all of our stations. The western flank usually gets neglected because we don’t have enough manpower to get out there. Our agents will count the foot sign, they will call it in, and at the end of the day the numbers get manipulated so that it doesn’t show up correctly.”
Buffett added that, in regard to his ranch in Arizona, he would estimate 50 percent of people coming across are not apprehended.
Senator Johnson later pressed witnesses on the lack of prosecution of those who actually are apprehended at the border. During his recent trip to the border, Johnson said he heard of officials saying they would not prosecute, for example, marijuana smugglers unless they have at least 500 pounds of marijuana, and that prosecutors are reluctant rather than eager to handle cases. “Is that accurate?” Johnson asked.
Dannels affirmed that the federal government specifically won’t prosecute teenagers, so drug traffickers have an even greater incentive to use teenagers. He added, “Child pornography – they won’t prosecute.”
“If it’s weekends, a lot of times they’ll pass on some of these smuggling cases because it’s a four day weekend,” Cabrera said. “With some of our agents that get assaulted, if it doesn’t meet the threshold, if he doesn’t have enough blood or bruising, they don’t prosecute.”
Full video of hearing and information on witnesses can be found here.