Lawmakers need to move from generalizations to specifics in defining what a secured border must look like, Arizona's former attorney general said.
"It's desperately necessary to create some very clear guidelines that are achievable instead of constantly moving the goal post," Terry Goddard said in a telephone briefing from the Immigration Policy Center, the research and policy center for the American Immigration Council in Washington, D.C.
One of the recurring themes around immigration reform is border security.
Legislation proposed last month by a group of eight U.S. senators, including Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona, would provide a path to legal status to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already here "contingent upon success in securing our borders and addressing visa overstays."
As part of that plan, the lawmakers' proposal said the Border Patrol will be provided with the "latest technology, infrastructure and personnel to prevent and apprehend every unauthorized entrant."
Also, a commission comprised of governors, attorneys general and community leaders living along the Southwest border would be created to monitor the progress of securing the border.
Goddard said Tuesday that he is concerned with that part of the framework.
"It's impossible to satisfy on this issue the governor from Arizona," said Goddard, a Democrat who ran against Jan Brewer for governor in 2010. "Getting Governor Brewer online is going to be extremely difficult, especially if there's no definition of what a secured border means."
A binational commission that includes partners from Mexico would bring credibility to the process, said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute in the University of San Diego, who also participated in the briefing.
"We've conceptualized it always as a unilateral problem and only design unilateral solutions," he said.
Any conversation about border security should go beyond the number of Border Patrol agents and people apprehended, the panelists said.
Recent proposals have all included funding and manpower benchmarks that have been met, even when the bills didn't become law, said Su Kim, an advocate associate with the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
From fiscal years 2005 to 2012, the budget of Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Border Patrol, increased from $6.3 billion to $11.7 billion, according the Migration Policy Institute.
And CBP staffing grew about 50 percent from 41,001 to 61,354 - the biggest share going to the Border Patrol in the Southwest.
Addressing the roots of the problem of illegal immigration is essential, the experts said.
Shirk advocates for making existing visa programs more effective.
"We need to create efficient legal means for ordinary workers," he said.
Contact reporter Perla Trevizo at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 573-4213. On Twitter: @Perla_Trevizo