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Texas lawmakers to introduce border security bill

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Doubling down on their vows to focus on border security before considering immigration reform, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, will file legislation on Tuesday that will further scrutinize how well the federal government protects the U.S.-Mexico border.

A Cornyn aide said the Border Security Results Act will "lay down a marker for what must be done on the border security front before we can reform our broken immigration system."

Cornyn currently serves as the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee's Immigration, Refugees and Border Security Subcommittee, and McCaul is the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

The legislation will be introduced as a bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight purportedly moves closer to introducing a bill to overhaul the country's immigration system. Republicans and Democrats, including President Obama, have argued that the border needs to be secure before reform can be passed. But discussions on how that end is achieved — and how success is measured — have been contentious.

Cornyn and McCaul's border security bill will require the Department of Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection, to readopt the metrics by which they determine if a portion of the border is under "operational control."

Under operational control, illegal crossers are either detected, deterred or apprehended at the border or within 100 miles of the border. A 2011 Government Accountability Office study found that about 875 miles of the 2,000-mile southern border were under operational control.

Cornyn's office said DHS in 2010 stopped the metric "operational control" to gauge border security and has not replaced it, leaving nothing in place to evaluate the agency's progress.

Cornyn and McCaul's bill will also require federal agents on the border to set a 90 percent apprehension rate goal for people who enter the country without inspection, and set a 50 percent reduction in wait times at the nation's ports as the standard. The bill will also require DHS to attain "full situational awareness of our borders through technology, manpower and results-based metrics," the aide said.

Proponents of immigration reform, including several Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups, cite recent apprehension data as proof that the border is more secure than it has been. Apprehensions have fallen to record lows, which DHS said indicates that fewer people are attempting to enter the country illegally. And a recent report by the Migration Policy Institute estimates that in fiscal year 2012, the federal government spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement efforts, about 24 percent more than it spent in combined funding for the FBI, the Secret Service, the U.S. Marshal's Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Firearms and Explosives.

Cornyn is not convinced. Last week during DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano's visit to Texas, Cornyn released a hard-line statement.

"Recent news reports noting wide gaps in security along the U.S.-Mexico border and scores of individuals crossing into the U.S. illegally continue to fly in the face of the Obama administration's insistence that our border is secure," he said in a statement.

"Texans — and all Americans — would appreciate a healthy dose of reality from Secretary Napolitano."

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Cornyn and McCaul.

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