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How Many Agents Do We Need to Secure the Border?

Politico has a story today summing up the debate over how many National Guard troops should be sent to the U.S.-Mexico border. The Obama administration claims has already sent additional troops to guard the border, but Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has pushed for more, inserting a provision in the now-stalled defense authorization bill to make troop levels five times higher than Obama authorized.

What is the right number to make the southern border secure? No one is really sure. The government has not done a comprehensive analysis to determine which border security methods are most successful:

“We frankly don’t have a very good understanding of what we should invest more in and where we should spend our resources,” said Jack Riley, director of the RAND National Defense Research Institute in Pittsburgh.

Blazquez, meanwhile, remains critical of the administration for failing to advance any sort of immigration reform, but he’s also skeptical about Republican calls for more troops, branding it an “optical solution.”

“There comes a point of saturation. At times, throwing individuals at the border without accurate forms of measuring success is futile,” he said. “We may have reached that saturation point.”

For now, then, border security becomes a “he said, she said” debate: McCain and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer claim Arizona is suffering from unprecedented danger from Mexico, while Obama and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano argue the border is at its most secure point in 20 years.

Drug cartel violence in Mexico is a very real problem, but most experts argue spillover violence in the U.S. is more fiction than fact. McCain’s evidence seems mostly anecdotal. “Our border is not secure,” he told Politico. “In the southern part of our state, there are signs that say, ‘Warning: drug smuggling, human smuggling area.’”

In some ways, whether these claims can be backed up doesn’t matter: As the Obama administration looks for a way forward on immigration reform, it will likely continue to face claims from the right it needs to “secure the border.” Finding a way to rebuff these statements will be a major hurdle for immigration reform.

For now, the Obama administration continues to tout its actions on increasing border security measures.

“I measure what we are doing by the results and by the numbers,” Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said yesterday in response to McCain’s claims of border threats. “What should be going up is going up, and what should be going down is going down.”

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