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The enforcement of U.S. borders has become an increasing expense in government spending.

According to The Fiscal Times, over the past year, the Obama administration has spent $17.9 billion to deal with illegal immigration issues. This financial investment is significantly greater than what is allocated to the total budgets of the FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

However, the economic expenditure appears to be working when you consider the apprehension of illegal immigrants in 2011 has declined to 340,252, which is a 40-year low. Or are these figures a result of a struggling economy?

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, one border agent accounts for 16 arrests, an average which was once 182 apprehensions per agent in 2000. With a $3.5 billion budget, the CBP's cost per apprehension totals $10,431, which accounts for a $630 increase from 2000.

An anonymous official said correlating the apprehension of individuals to the CBP's overall budget is "unhelpful as a means to determine the cost/benefit of border security."

One possible determinant of the success or failure of such an investment might be in relation to drug and contraband seizures. Yet despite an 83 percent increase to 18,898 in seizures from the past five years, it is not considered a performance measure for border security.

A Government Accountability Office audit noted that other federal agencies like the DEA are responsible for drug smuggling issues.

"Border Patrol does not yet have performance goals and measures in place necessary to define border security and determine the resources necessary to achieve it," the GAO said. "Border Patrol officials said that they had planned to establish such goals and measures by fiscal year 2012, but these efforts have been delayed, and are contingent on developing and implementing key elements of its strategic plan."

The Migration Policy Institute added that the federal government is faced with a rising fiscal quandary as a result of recent figures.

"In the face of new fiscal realities, immigration enforcement agencies and Congress will be forced to look at return on investment through a more strategic lens," the report concluded. "A sharp focus on impact and deterrence - not simply growth in resources to combat mounting levels of illegal immigration - to determine funding and resource allocations is all but inevitable."

Financial concerns also exist within the confines of the courtrooms when over half of all federal prosecutions deal with crimes associated with illegal immigration.

"What we need is to do smart sizing of our enforcement budget now," Muzaffar Chishti, a co-author of the Migration Policy Institute study, told The Fiscal Times. "We may decide it doesn't make sense for us to remove 400,000 people a year, half of whom are just garden variety immigration violators. . . . Our feeling is that additional funding will not produce more or better enforcement. We have in place enforcement machinery needed for the challenges of our country. What we need now is other elements of immigration reform which would improve enforcement itself."

Bruce St. James Show, Mon-Fri., 9a-12p on 92.3 KTAR

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