The Senate mustered an impressive 67 votes Monday for a border security measure that is both unnecessary and almost absurdly expensive. But it's needed to attract a broad swath of Republican votes for the immigration bill.
So be it. Major pieces of legislation require compromise — and not always pretty ones. So even though the bill would be more palatable without the border-security proposal demanded by Republican Sens. John Hoeven of North Dakota and Bob Corker of Tennessee, it remains a major improvement over the status quo.
Even with the amendment, the overall bill would still shrink the deficit in the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The Republican-friendly security measure, as The New York Times explained a few days ago, "calls for a 'border surge' that nearly doubles the current border patrol force to 40,000 agents from 21,000, as well as for the completion of 700 miles of fence on the nation's southern border. The additional border agents, the senators said, would cost roughly $25 billion."
We don't begrudge beefing up security beyond what has already occurred in recent years — which has been substantial — but a surge of the magnitude contemplated amounts to overkill. In any other context, Republicans would be outraged by such a burst of spending.
According to the Government Accountability Office, Southwest border security is currently about 84 percent effective, meaning 84 percent of those trying to make their way across the southern border are either apprehended or turned back.
Now, that estimate could be flawed, as some critics believe. For that matter, as The Washington Post's Brad Plummer has pointed out, it's "hard to know how much of that reduced flow is due to better border security and how much due to the weak U.S. economy."
Still, if 84 percent is a legitimate figure, then the heightened border security of recent years is reasonably effective already, contrary to popular perception, and further investment is likely to improve it only at the margin.
Is boosting border-security effectiveness from, say, 84 percent to 89 percent really worth such a colossal investment?
When all is said and done, however, the Senate bill is still the sort of comprehensive solution to the current immigration fiasco that this country needs. And it will be a major step forward — as well as put significant pressure on the less reform-inclined House — if it attracts nearly 70 senators from both parties when a final vote occurs later this week.