Border Patrol Spending Cuts Urged by Groups from Washington to Texas

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Senator Patty Murray and her Congressional Supercommittee have failed in the attempt to craft a bipartisan plan for spending cuts. But that doesn't mean people are out of ideas. One that's gaining momentum: Slash what one group calls "the gaping fiscal black hole" that is immigration enforcement.

The group putting it that way is the National Immigration Forum, a pro-immigrant think tank based in Washington D.C. Last week, the group released a report suggesting that the government could save $2.6 billion by, among other things, cutting unnecessary spending on the Border Patrol, whose budget in recent years has gone up by $300 million annually.

"The vast majority of border enforcement efforts are focused on areas between ports of entry," the report says, referring to the terrain monitored by the Border Patrol. "Yet, the number of persons attempting to cross the border illegally between ports of entry is at its lowest level since 1972."

As Seattle Weekly has reported over the past year, that discrepancy has seemed to leave the Border Patrol looking for things to do--especially along the northern border. A whistle blower on the Olympic Peninsula, where an immigrant died while fleeing the Border Patrol, has said the same thing. Since there isn't an enormous influx of people sneaking over from Canada, the Border Patrol has gone after long time residents, using tactics that raise civil liberty concerns.

"The money is not being spent well," says Ada Williams Prince, policy director for the Seattle-based advocacy group OneAmerica, which has been monitoring Border Patrol activity along the northern border.

Yet it's not just up here that concerns about Border Patrol spending are cropping up. Joining the National Immigration Forum last week for a conference call with reporters was the Texas Border Coalition, a group comprised of mayors and council members in the Lone Star State.

In an interview with SW, Billy Moore, a spokesperson for the coalition, explains that his group ardently believes in immigration enforcement. But he says the focus on Border Patrol spending has led to neglect of enforcement at the ports of entry themselves, which consequently have become magnets for drug cartels and illegal immigrants.

The scrutiny of the Border Patrol is starting to have an effect. Recently, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano quietly ordered the agency to stop routine questioning of people on buses and trains near the northern border, one of the practices that had raised civil liberty concerns.

And Williams Prince says that an array of public officials, including several members of Congress and U.S. Attorney for Western Washington Jenny Durkan, are taking an interest in concerns about the Border Patrol. Durkan, who did not respond when approached about the matter by SW a few months ago for a post, met with OneAmerica and other immigrant advocates a week ago, according to Williams Prince. The U.S. attorney is now planning a trip to the northern border with those advocates so she can investigate herself.

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