Last Wednesday, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee at a hearing entitled “Border Security: Frontline Perspectives on Progress and Remaining Challenges.”

From the outset, Chairman Tom Carper (D-DE) repeated the Obama Administration’s narrative that the border is secure. Reflecting on his trip to the border with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Carper stated “I saw a border that I think appears to me and to a lot of other people is more secure than it’s ever been — or been in a long time.” (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Apr. 10, 2013) “Are [our] borders more secure than they have been in the past? I think it’s clear that they are.” (Id.) “Today, illegal immigration is at historic lows,” he declared. (Id.)

However, U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher’s testimony directly contradicted that assertion. “We have seen an increase in attempted entries,” Fisher told the Committee. (Id.) Specifically, Chief Fisher testified that apprehensions of aliens crossing the border illegally are up 13 percent compared to last year. (Id.) While stating that the “reasons and modus” behind the increase are varied, he conceded that Congressional negotiations for “comprehensive” immigration reform is part of the reason for the increase. (Id.)

And while some Senators on the Committee openly support amnesty, they also criticized the administration’s failure to develop an official metric for border security.  Senator Carper particularly criticized DHS’s use of apprehensions as an indicator of border security.  “Arrests cannot be the only metric available to measure the performance of our efforts at the border,” said Senator Carper. “Without knowing how many people are actually trying to cross the border, we will never know how effective our efforts truly are to date.” (Id.)  Senator McCain echoed that criticism. “You can’t rely on apprehensions as the only measurement. But the fact is we have no measurements. We have no measurements now,” declared McCain. (Id.)  Even Chief Fisher acknowledged the weakness of DHS’s position:  “The extent to which the border is secure has more to do with known and evolving threats and our ability to respond to those threats and less to do with fluctuations and things like apprehension numbers.” (Id.)

To the Committee’s surprise, Chief Fisher refuted recent testimony by Border Patrol Assistant Commissioner Mark Borkowski by announcing that the agency is developing a new system that measures apprehensions as well as the number of illegal aliens that avoided detection. (See FAIR Legislative Update, Mar. 25, 2013)  “We want to know how many people come across the border and of that number, how many people do we either apprehend of turn back,” Fisher testified. (Bloomberg Government Transcript, Apr. 10, 2013) “Have you developed the metrics or not?” demanded McCain. (Id.) After receiving an affirmative response from Fisher, McCain asked “You have? And we’re using them?” (Id.) “We’re just starting to,” Fisher replied. (Id.) “Well, it is in the final stages of development, Senator. I can tell you that.” (Id.)