Byron York

Even Democrats who oppose tying immigration reform to border security realized they were being played. “I would say to the department, you've got to get in the game,” said a frustrated-sounding Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee. “At some point, we're going to have to have DHS work with us more concretely about the confidence of the security of the border.”

Rep. Ron Barber, the Democrat who replaced Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, noted, “The Border Patrol rolled out last May a new strategy that didn't have goals, didn't have metrics, didn't have a process for evaluation”. That's not really a plan, is it?

Miller, the chairwoman, reminded the officials that the Department of Homeland Security could end up being the “stumbling block” to immigration reform. But the hearing ended with no hint that any answers might come soon.

A related issue: As reform supporters often point out, a large number of illegal immigrants -- more than 40 percent -- did not cross the border illegally. Rather, they came legally, with a visa, and then never left. Members of the Senate “Gang of Eight” are promising tough new measures to deal with so-called visa overstays.

But like the case of border security, Congress has passed law after law, going back to 1996, requiring the executive branch to crack down on overstays. The promised enforcement has never happened.

Among the measures: The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996; the Immigration and Naturalization Service Data Management Improvement Act of 2000; the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001; the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002; and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. All directed the executive branch to stop visa overstays, but the problem remains.

A look at the recent House hearing, as well as at the long-standing overstay problem, highlights a major obstacle to comprehensive immigration reform. The executive branch has the authority to enforce border and visa security. But these days, it appears the executive branch, particularly the Department of Homeland Security, doesn't want to do the job.

Why would passing a new comprehensive immigration reform measure change that?


Byron York

Byron York, chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner