WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Committee Member Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., Thursday heard testimony directly from the frontlines of the struggle to secure the southern border.

In the second hearing in a series on the effect of a decade’s worth of investment to secure the border and how to build upon it, a county judge and three sheriffs engaged in lively debate about the impact these resources have had on the level of security within their jurisdictions. Three of the witnesses agreed that security had improved in their border counties and that apprehensions of illegal border crossers had declined. The fourth witness said drug and human smuggling in his Arizona county remained out of control.

“Determining the level of security at our southern border is both an objective and a subjective endeavor,” Lieberman said. “Apprehensions of illegal border crosers are one indicator, and they are at their lowest level since the early 1970s. But other factors must be considered, including whether people living in border communities feel safe, and whether crime rates along the border are decreasing.  The testimony today showed that progress is being made, but that we still have a long way to go.  In confronting the problem of illegal immigration, we must also take into consideration a statistic that would probably surprise most people: 35-45 percent of the people now in this country illegally originally entered the U.S. on valid visas that subsequently expired.  In other words, these people entered the country legally and then stayed here illegally. Most of these people did not enter the U.S. across our border with Mexico.”

McCain said: “With an increase in illegal border crossers and an increase in Mexican drug cartel violence, we have seen record amounts of drugs crossing the border.  Americans living anywhere, but especially along the border, must feel safe and secure in their homes and on their property.  Congress has not provided nearly enough funding for Operation Streamline to assist in prosecuting illegal border crossers, or Operation Stonegarden, a grant program that funds many of the activities sheriffs are asked to take on to help defend our homeland.  These programs are crucial to ensuring our courts and state and local law enforcement have the resources necessary to support efforts to protect people in the border region and beyond.”

Witnesses were El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar; Imperial County, California, Sheriff Raymond Loera; Luna County, New Mexico Sheriff Raymond Cobos; and Pinal County, Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu.

Escobar declared El Paso to be the safest city in the nation according to FBI data, while Loera, and Cobos remarked on the progress that had been made over the past decade in reducing violent crime in their border counties. Babeu bucked the trend and said his county, which is not directly on the border, had become a main corridor for smuggling drugs into the country.

At the Committee’s first hearing in this series, witnesses described the billions in dollars of federal resources that have been sent to the border over the past decade, and agreed that we need to develop better ways to measure border control. Thursday’s witnesses were called to bring to life the situation at the border, in a way statistics cannot, with first-hand experience from the people whose jobs bring them into contact with illegal immigrants and border-related crime on a daily basis.