UPDATE: The White House says Kyl isn’t telling the truth, according to Politico:
But in a statement to POLITICO, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer denied Kyl’s account of the conversation, saying “the president didn’t say that and Senator Kyl knows it.”
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) claims that President Obama is “holding the border hostage” until the Senate passes comprehensive immigration reform.
“The problem is, he said, if we secure the border, then you all won’t have any reason to support comprehensive immigration reform,” Kyl said, as the crowd in the room gasped loudly. “In other words, they’re holding it hostage.”
Though Obama has pledged to send an influx of National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border, Kyl said the president made clear that border security is just a political tool in the broader goal of passing an immigration package through Congress.
Kyl said he was “not so sure” the president’s concern about GOP support was legitimate, but that regardless the administration has an “obligation” to secure the border.
Kyl claims that a conversation took place in the White House between just the two of them, so there is no record that the president ever said any such thing. Given the rightwing’s record of distortions, I’m betting Obama didn’t say that.
But beyond Kyl’s nonsense claims about Obama, it’s worth examining the larger fixation with controlling the border. The Arizona Republic’s Dennis Wagner has an excellent piece pointing out that “controlling the border” is darn near impossible. It’s worth reading the entire piece:
Amid a growing national angst about illegal immigration, Americans keep hearing a chorus: Secure the border first. Then talk about immigration reform.
The idea appeals to public sentiment, and it seems like a simple demand.
But what do pundits and politicians mean?
Is a border secure only when no one crosses illegally and when no contraband slips through?
If some permeability is acceptable, what is the tolerable amount?
Political leaders mostly dodge those questions, and for good reason: Anyone with a minimal knowledge or understanding about the nearly 2,000-mile swath of land between Mexico and the United States realizes that requiring a secure border establishes an impossible standard.
One reason: There is no way to conclude success because authorities have no idea how many undocumented immigrants are getting through. Authorities can count only the number of unauthorized intruders captured. Such unavoidable uncertainty prevents any absolute assurances that no one is sneaking over, making declarations of victory impossible. . .
No matter how many federal troops and agents are on patrol, no matter how many sensors, cameras and fences are employed, many will try to sneak across the border, and some will succeed.
Each time that happens, opponents of immigration reform will be able to declare that the line is not defended, that America is not safe.
They appeal to patriotism, asking why the world’s most powerful nation cannot protect its sovereign boundaries.
They appeal to fear, suggesting that terrorists potentially could mix in with the daily swarm of Hispanics heading north for opportunity.
Public passion is so high, said the Transborder Project’s Barry, that no one does a cost-benefit analysis of border enforce- ment.
“Everybody is jumping on the border-security bandwagon, including moderate Democrats,” Barry said. “It’s not driven by anything real on the grid, not by violence or invasions of illegal immigrants . . . not based on any real assessment of threats to the nation.”
The rhetoric is magnified by fears that Mexico’s explosive cartel violence may bleed over the international line. In fact, FBI and Arizona records show crime is dramatically down statewide and along the border. Murders in Arizona decreased by one-fifth last year; aggravated assaults dropped nearly 9 percent.
Those numbers provide little consolation to southern Arizona residents weary of undocumented immigrants and armed drug couriers traipsing across their properties. Still, the statistics contradict claims of a cri- sis.
“I hear politicians on TV saying the border has gotten worse,” said Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik. “Well, the fact of the matter is, the border has never been more secure.”