As I reported in today's story about President Obama's immigration speech Tuesday in El Paso, he poked fun at Republican's insatiable appetite for border security with a now infamous line about "alligators in the moat" (video here):
"All the stuff they asked for, we’ve done," Obama said. "But even though we’ve answered these concerns, I’ve got to say I suspect there are still going to be some who are trying to move the goal posts on us one more time.
"You know, they said we needed to triple the Border Patrol. Or now they’re going to say we need to quadruple the Border Patrol. Or they’ll want a higher fence. Maybe they’ll need a moat. Maybe they want alligators in the moat. They’ll never be satisfied."
The President was referencing the massive buildup of Border Patrol agents, border fences, technology, roads and equipment over the last decade-plus that has cost billions and transformed once-quiet border regions into fortified zones full of agents in SUVs and helicopters overhead.
The Obama administration has gone “above and beyond” what Republicans asked for on border security when the last round of serious immigration reform stalled in 2007, he said, arguing that sufficient progress has been made on enforcement to resume immigration reform debate.
He's not the first one to suggest perhaps now is the time to step back and assess what's working in border security and what the best of use of limited resources is. That's why the Obama administration is designing new metrics to measure border security.
As former INS commissioner Doris Meissner told me for this April 19 story on the nebulous definition of border security, after 15 years of unprecedented spending on border security, and in tight budget times, Congress needs to know what works and what doesn't.
"It's been an article of faith that we need border enforcement and we need more of it, and certainly that's valid," Meissner said. "But I don't think we've gotten to the point before where one could actually say, 'Well, how much is enough?'"
"It's certainly legitimate to ask, 'What's the return on investment here?' " said Meissner, commissioner of the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1993 to 2000 and senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank that advocates for comprehensive immigration changes.
U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., was among those who applauded the President for publicly saying what many have been whispering for years.
"The president said it really well," Grijalva said. "There is no satisfaction point. It's insatiable."
But Obama's "alligators in the moat" comments didn't sit well with Republicans and those who believe the border is far from secure.
The Arizona Cattlemen’s Association — which has been a vocal proponent of more border security since Cochise County rancher Robert Krentz was killed in March 2010 (in a still unsolved crime) — issued a press release with the title, "Obama Thinks Border Security is a Joke."
"The President fails to understand that border security is not a partisan political issue. This is an issue about the people who live along our southern border and are not safe. This is no laughing matter! Southern Arizona rancher Dan Bell says, “My family has ranched on the border for several years and we have seen quite a few changes and have seen an increased presence in Border Patrol, but we are far from securing the border and I can tell you the fence is not done!”
"His crack about alligators suggests he thinks that he's done all the enforcement that can reasonably be expected of him and that further opposition to amnesty is simple demagoguery. But the problem with believing your own press releases is that it obscures reality."
And Fox and Friends also suggested that Obama is not taking border security seriously, according to this summary of reaction to the comment from Media Matters: They Don't Get It: Unable To Take A Joke, Right-Wing Media Attack Obama Over "Moat" Comment
In a related note, the Dream Act that Obama called for has already been reintroduced:
* Democrats to reintroduce DREAM Act (Politico (DC)
Finally, here is the Obama blueprint for "building a 21st Century immigration system."