Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer Says the Border Still Isn't Secure

PHOTO: Brewer

A report released earlier this week outlines just how much we spend on immigration enforcement.

The answer: $18 billion in the 2012 fiscal year.

That's more than we spend on the combined budgets of all other major federal criminal law enforcement, which includes the FBI, DEA, ATF, U.S. Marshals and Secret Service. For many reasons, including funding, apprehensions at the border are at the lowest level since 1970.

However, some public figures think the border still isn't secure enough. One of them is Arizona Governor Jan Brewer.

If you've never heard of her she's a staunch supporter of Arizona's mostly nullified immigration law, SB 1070, and once wagged her finger at President Barack Obama during a tense talk about the issue. Brewer was criticized in 2010 for inaccurately saying that Arizona authorities were finding headless bodies in the desert. She later said she misspoke.

While the governor has called for the federal government to secure the border in Arizona, she hasn't been overly specific about what that means, and where the spending might hit a limit. On Monday, she was pressed for details, according to Capitol Media Service's Howard Fischer.

Brewer said the entire border should be as secure as Arizona's Yuma sector. "I think that would be a goal," the governor said.

What does that mean? Hard to say.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) divides the country into 20 "sectors" for enforcement purposes. But comparing the effectiveness of different sectors of the border is tricky. The sizes vary and certain areas may attract more or less unauthorized crossers at different times. If there's a city or a smuggling corridor on the other side of a certain border sector, that could influence what route undocumented migrants take to the U.S.

Here's how different the sectors can be: the Yuma sector is roughly 126 miles long and saw 5,833 apprehensions in the 2011 fiscal year. The neighboring Tucson sector stretches more than double that length, is staffed with six times as many Border Patrol agents and had 123,285 apprehensions over the same period.

One thing is clear: Yuma has seen a sharp drop in apprehensions in recent years. From fiscal years 2005 to 2011, apprehensions in the Yuma sector have fallen by 96 percent, the most dramatic decrease along the border.

According to Brewer spokesperson Matthew Benson, part of the reason for that drop was federal funding for enforcement. "I think that is conclusive evidence that when the federal government employs the right mix of fence, technology and manpower, they can be quite successful in securing the border," he said.

As for how much the federal government would need to spend to make the entire border as secure as Yuma, Benson said he couldn't put an exact figure on it. "I don't think that there's a magic funding figure, just like I don't think that there's a magic formula to gauge when the border is secure."

Some in the border state disagree. Lisa Magaña, an associate professor at Arizona State University's School of Transborder Studies, says that immigrants determined to reach the U.S. will find a way regardless of border enforcement.

"More border patrol and a bigger wall isn't really going to make that much of a difference," she said, noting that nearly half of undocumented immigrants enter the country legally on visas. "I think the governor, she's good at the symbols and the phrases but they're not necessarily always grounded in what's really going on."

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