Rich Tucker
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No matter what the problem, lawmakers in Washington think they’ve got the solution: Spend money on it.

This trend shows up in the debate over illegal immigration. The House of Representatives and the Senate have come up with very different proposals to combat the problem, but the competing bills have at least one thing in common. Under either measure, the federal government would hire, train and deploy thousands of border patrol agents in years to come.

That would be expensive and, ultimately, wasteful.

A new paper from The Heritage Foundation estimates that “the total cost of a new Border Patrol agent is around $189,000.” That’s partially because there’s a lot of waste in the process. Almost 20 percent of those who enter the border patrol’s academy wash out, so to fill 6,000 slots, the government would need to bring almost 8,000 trainees into the school. And because only about 1 out of every 30 applicants actually completes training, “meeting the president’s goal would require about 180,000 applications in the next two years,” the paper reports.

There are other problems, of course. If the government manages to find, hire and train 6,000 new agents, they’ll become a permanent feature on the landscape. Even if illegal immigration becomes less important in years to come (as we certainly hope it will), taxpayers will be paying for these agents until they retire.

Luckily, there’s a better way to eliminate illegal immigration. Instead of simply hiring new agents, the government should use a layered approach. By getting state and local law enforcement agencies, volunteers, contractors and the National Guard involved, the government can get started right away and make significant steps toward closing our southern border to illegal immigration.

We know this layered approach will work, because it’s already working.

An e-mailer who's been working with a group of border observers for more than a year recently wrote to declare that “the border is secure.” Not the entire frontier, of course. But, he writes, his team has helped “shut down approximately five miles (2 percent) of the California border. It obviously can be done.”

How? Teamwork.

Volunteers -- regular American citizens concerned about protecting their country -- got the ball rolling. They started by reinforcing fencing along the border. “We added 20 and 50 foot sections, reinforced weak spots, immediately repaired holes, until we now have a solid secondary barrier over 2,000 yards long,” my correspondent writes.

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Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for Townhall.com.