If Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform, it will depend on the Obama administration to enforce the law. How might that work?

A glimpse of the future came Wednesday when the House Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security held a little-noticed hearing titled “Measuring Outcomes to Understand the State of Border Security.”

Immigration reform depends on a secure border. Nearly every lawmaker pushing reform, and certainly every Republican, stresses that the border must be proven secure before millions of currently illegal immigrants can be placed on a path to citizenship.

But how do you measure border security? For years, the government estimated the number of miles of the border that were under “operational control” and came up with various ways to define what that meant.

Then the Department of Homeland Security threw out the concept of operational control, which Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called “archaic.” The administration promised to create something called the Border Condition Index, or BCI, which would be a “holistic,” and a far better measure of border security.

Time passed, with no BCI. “Nearly three years later, the department has not produced this measure, so at this hearing, we will be asking for a status of the BCI, what measures it will take into account and when it might be ready,” subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Candice Miller, a Republican, said before Wednesday’s testimony. Getting BCI up and running is particularly important now, Miller added, because comprehensive immigration reform cannot happen without a reliable way to assess border security.

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