The immigration reform bill before the Senate is called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013. The order is no accident. Border security is the linchpin, and few Republicans will support the broader legislation unless they are convinced the border can be secured and that the United States will not see another surge in illegal immigration as it did following the 1986 reform bill.
But how can Congress know whether the borders are secure? Despite an enormous buildup of Border Patrol agents, fencing and technology over the past two decades, the U.S. government has yet to assess whether these expenditures have actually been effective in reducing illegal immigration. In a new report for the Council on Foreign Relations titled “Managing Illegal Immigration to the United States: How Effective is Enforcement?” we argue that the administration can gain congressional and public trust only by developing and publicly reporting real measures of the effectiveness of border enforcement. Such accountability, coupled with better congressional oversight, would help reassure a skeptical public that the U.S. government is indeed serious about controlling illegal migration.