'Pathway to Legal Status' Perception Will Keep Illegal Immigrants Coming, Senate Panel Told

WASHINGTON – A San Diego-based Border Patrol officer told lawmakers that the only way to halt the influx of undocumented immigrants crossing the southern border is to make it a “losing proposition” for them.

Shawn Moran, vice president and spokesperson for the National Border Patrol Council, a 17-year veteran, told the Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee that those endeavoring to illegally cross the Rio Grande into the U.S “weigh the risks and potential rewards” before making their move.

“These individuals are risking not only a lifetime of savings to pay the smugglers but literally their own lives in the process,” Moran said. “They know the border is a dangerous place. They know that they are opening themselves up to predation from smugglers in addition to the physical hazards of crossing the Rio Grande River, the Arizona desert, or even the Montana wilderness.”

But those entering also maintain the perception that “if you can get over the border and can hide in the shadows long enough, eventually there will be a pathway to legal status,” he said. “This pathway may be by virtue of the duration you have been here or through your children. We need only look to the debacle last summer with unaccompanied minors to see how prevalent this perception is among potential illegal aliens.”

The Obama administration’s decision last year to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which permits those who entered the country as youths to remain, is adding to the perception.

“We were all told that there was precedent for their actions,” Moran said. “The administration was completely correct. There were ample amounts of precedent and therein lies the problem. We will never be able to stop illegal immigration until potential illegal aliens believe that it is a losing proposition. They need to know that they will be found and that hiding in the shadows will do them no good.  Employers need to know that if they hire illegal aliens, there will be credible sanctions.”

In order to make illegal entry less attractive, Moran said lawmakers should consider expanding manpower along the border. The nation currently numbers 21,370 Border Patrol agents, down 1,500 full time equivalents as a result of the sequestration package that cut federal spending.

“We do not have to double the size of the Border Patrol to gain operational control of the border,” he said. “But we are, in my opinion, approximately 5,000 agents short of where we should be.”

Moran also noted that the Border Patrol is “an extremely top heavy organization with far too many layers of management and a convoluted chain of command.” While the average police department has one supervisor for every 10 officers, the Border Patrol has one supervisor for every four agents. The 1-to-10 ratio should be mandated. He also said agents are performing duties like processing and transportation that could be better handled by non-law enforcement personnel.

Potential Border Patrol agents also require better training.

“During the buildup of the Border Patrol during the Bush administration the academy’s duration was reduced from approximately 20 weeks to as little as 54 days if you spoke Spanish,” Moran said. “This is simply not enough time to properly train an agent and weed out those who are not up to the challenge.”

Moran’s testimony came as Senate Republicans mounted a challenge to a series of executive orders signed by President Obama that effectively protected about 5 million illegal aliens from deportation. That was accomplished by expanding DACA and offering a reprieve to the parents of the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens.

About 11 million undocumented individuals currently reside in the U.S.

Republican lawmakers have expressed almost unanimous outrage over the president’s action and have responded by attempting to deprive the Department of Homeland Security with the funding the necessary to carry out the administration’s dictates. But those efforts have twice fallen short in the GOP-led Senate, with Democrats banding together on a filibuster, leaving Republicans unable to attract the 60 votes necessary to proceed.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the committee chairman, said it is a priority for the panel this year to pass its own border security and enforcement bill that likely would supplant the administration’s initiative. He expressed concern that the executive orders “will result in a new surge at our borders, similar to the surge of unaccompanied children from Central America we saw last summer.”

“While we know that DACA was not meant to apply to the unaccompanied minors who arrived last summer, it certainly appears to have affected their decision to make that terrible and dangerous journey on a train known as La Bestia (The Beast). In 2014 the number of unaccompanied children apprehended rose from approximately 16,000 in 2011 to 68,631 in 2014.”

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the ranking member, noted that the Senate passed a bipartisan immigration bill two years ago but the House failed to bring it up for consideration, forcing the president’s hand.

“As a result, we continue to be left with a broken immigration system that meets neither our economic nor our security needs,” Carper said. “Faced with paralysis here in Congress and the continued inefficiency and unfairness in our immigration system, the president decided to try and make several temporary improvements, hoping it would spur those of us in the Congress to finish the job we began almost two years ago. Those improvements – or changes – were not meant to be permanent, but they are what bring us to this debate today.”

Carper added that he has concluded that the president’s actions are “feasible, are fair, make good economic sense, and actually enhance our nation’s security.”

“Whether you agree with that or not, these initiatives are interim steps,” he said. “They are not final steps.”

But the president’s plan could face additional hurdles. Luke Bellocchi, a former deputy ombudsman whose responsibilities included oversight of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told the panel that the agency could face major problems dealing with the filings of millions of illegal aliens seeking deferred deportations and work permits.

Bellocchi said it’s unlikely the agency has the personnel and wherewithal necessary to handle the anticipated flood.

The processing system in the Citizenship and Immigration Services still uses primarily paper applications and relies on the U.S. Postal Service. Resources likely will have to be diverted from other areas to address the situation.