Immigration Reform Report

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Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute will be unveiling a new report on comprehensive immigration reform. Mike Slaven, who is writing the report for Morrison, will discuss the findings.

Ted Simons: Border security is a major factor in the debate over comprehensive immigration reform. But what does border security mean, and how specific can that definition be? ASU's Morrison Institute is researching a new study on security's place in immigration reform. Mike Slaven is writing the report and he joins us now. Good to see you again.

Mike Slaven: Thanks very much.

Ted Simons: Every time we talk about immigration reform we hear about secure border. We must have a secure border first. I always ask, define secure border. This report is basically based on something like that.

Mike Slaven: Right. Obviously it's an important question. Especially in comprehensive immigration reform. Have you a lot of people especially Republicans saying, well, we have to secure the border first before we can move on with the other elements of immigration reform, especially legalization for the people who don't have status right now in the U.S. The question is obviously, OK, what does that mean? And the senate took one specific approach to it and the debate goes to the house, they might revisit it, and it will come up again and be important as to whether something passes the house.

Ted Simons: Is consensus -- First of all, why has there not been consensus on what a secure border means, and is it even possible on something like this?

Mike Slaven: Security in general is a very subjective question. You may look at all the evidence that's going on at the border and say, OK, according to all the measurements that have usually been used, it's already more secure than it's been in a long time. But some people may say that's still not secure enough. Others may say it is secure enough. So there's a lot of subjectivity and debate. Also there are a whole vast array of border security questions. Like what are you talking about, are you talking about terrorists, are you talking about labor migrants crossing the border? And there hasn't over the last 15 years been consistent consensus on which one of those issues is really important, most important to address. Obviously they're all important in some way, but as for -- As to whether consensus is possible, it's going to have to be somewhat possible. If the border is to be secured, so to speak, before the other parts of immigration reform can occur, which has been how a lot of people have been talking about the issue for several years, then clearly there's going to have to be some kind of consensus developed, and I'm relatively optimistic that people for the purposes of this bill can come together if enough effort is given into it.

Ted Simons: As far as the border being more secure than it's been in decades, we've heard former secretary Napolitano make that statement, we've seen reports and studies that border patrol apprehensions, they're up crime levels are down, drug seizures are up. Manpower, technology, spending, the whole nine yards. But can you say that it's as safe as it's been in decade and not make it -- Seems like it's a political statement the minute it leaves your mouth.

Mike Slaven: It is. And that's kind of what it comes down to. You have a lot of politicians who take a certain stance on border security, and it's not necessarily always more what's actually occurring at the border. You heard a lot of people a few years ago say that the border is really perilously insecure, but when you looked at the apprehensions, they were pointing to illegal traffic going down, which is pretty much what you want to see. So what they'll have to do and what they did in the senate, they agreed on a certain other metrics that are more sophisticated to measure how effective the enforcement is being. Not just the overall levels of traffic, but what is the effectiveness rate. There's some relatively crude measurements that exist for that and they decided to use those as goals take the levels of resources which have greatly extended already and use those as the triggers so to speak when -- When other parts of the legislation can be enacted.

Ted Simons: Things like effectiveness rate, are they viable?

Mike Slaven: The effectiveness rate is probably better than what's been pointed to as evidence of good border security. The effectiveness rate measures basically the border patrol's estimates of how many people have gotten away versus how many have been apprehended and turned back. That's better than pointing to a number of apprehensions, because it gives you a better idea exactly who is being caught among how many people. So it is viable in that extent it's better, but what the senate has continued to do, what might be continued to occur is to use basically the amount of resources at the border, counting border patrol agents and counting technology and surveillance as evidence of, OK, is the border security, but obviously not everybody agrees on that approach.

Ted Simons: I know your report is released tomorrow. But I got a sneak peek, thank you very much. Among the suggestions, get real in defining secure border. Can you get real?

Mike Slaven: Well, enough politicians have spent enough time in Arizona on border security that they should probably have a pretty good idea of what they are talking about. So one thing that's really important is going to happen, is that people will have to say, OK this, is what we're talking about. These are the exact types of goals we're speaking about, these are the resources we want. Up to this point, the debate, that hasn't always happened. But it's going to have to occur if there's movement on this issue no matter what approach they take.

Ted Simons: If you can't be specific, you can't be taken seriously?

Mike Slaven: If you can't be specific, then nobody can judge whether your demands are reasonable. And that's important, because the goals of immigration reform overall, three goals, which is expanding legal channels, regularizing the population that is here without status, and increase border security, all of those have public support. And they have very enduring public support in Arizona and nationwide. If your position is we need to secure the border first, you should probably say exactly when the border would be secure enough to move on with the other things because there are public priorities.

Ted Simons: Another suggestion is to balance accountability and realism. What are we talking about here?

Mike Slaven: One thing a lot of people in Congress have said is, OK, we have to hold the department of homeland security, the government accountable for the results of border enforcement. So they look at this as one reason why the effectiveness rate has come up. If you're going to use the effectiveness rate as a trigger in terms of whether other things can happen in the legislation, you have to ask, OK, are we going to define it extremely specifically or are we going to say, well, what could happen is the economy could improve, draw more labor migrants from Mexico and Central America, and we have a lot bigger problem than we do right now. So you need to be realistic about what the causes of immigration and unauthorized crossing is, and then you can work that into whatever standards you have.

Ted Simons: And that brings up the idea of flexibility, which is another suggestion from your report. Balancing clarity and flexibility. Flexibility, another politically charged word when you're talking about border security.

Mike Slaven: Everything is politically charged when you're talking about border security. It's important that if Congress is going to be serious about legalization for the unauthorized population, that they're going to have to be actually attainable goals. And they've been discussing 90% effectiveness rate in all sectors. Some of the sectors in Texas get very little traffic, for instance. A dozen people can make a difference between 1 percentage and another, so you're going to hold up really important parts of legislation based on a couple of dozen crossers in a year. So the legislation has to be designed with that kind of stuff in mind.

Ted Simons: Why did the Morrison Institute decide to do this particular study?

Mike Slaven: The Morrison Institute has been interested in a long time in terms of kind of separating myth and reality in terms of immigration. It's a very charged issue. It's sometimes really difficult to get objective information on what's going on at the border, and to have that affect them -- The policy debate. So this is I think fits in with the larger goal of the Morrison Institute to kind of say, OK, here's the situation, and the report goes over that in terms of what the situation is at the border, gets into some particulars about how it's been define in the senate bill. And looks forward to how the house might decide to approach the issue, what kind of changes they might want to make.

Ted Simons: That's pretty much what you want folks to take from this study?

Mike Slaven: Yeah. What folks should take from this study is that border secure has been -- Security has been talked about for so long, but we do have to have a precise discussion about when it's secure. Without that it's difficult to get anywhere on the issue.

Ted Simons: Alright. Very good. Mike, congratulations on the study. We look forward to seeing it released tomorrow.

Mike Slaven:Morrison Institute, ASU;

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