Days of border security boosts appear over

Obama's fiscal 2012 budget request for Homeland Security does not seek big funding increases for border efforts, and actually decreases spending in some areas.

Securing the nation's border is as volatile an issue as ever, but the days of throwing money at virtual fences and boosting the number of Border Patrol agents are over, at least according to President Obama's new budget.

For the past few years, politicians were falling over themselves to boost funding for more border and immigration officers, as well as expensive security technology. Only seven months ago, Congress approved -- and Obama signed -- a $600 million emergency supplemental for security efforts along the Mexican border.

How the winds have shifted.

The administration's fiscal 2012 budget request for the Homeland Security Department does not seek big funding increases for border security, and actually decreases funding in some areas.

And many House Republicans were outdoing themselves trying to cut border security in the pending fiscal 2011 spending bill that was on the floor this week.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on Thursday that watching House Republicans slash border funding "was an experience in whiplash."

Napolitano said the fiscal 2012 budget request "reflects this administration's strong commitment to protecting the homeland and the American people through the effective use of DHS resources."

But concerns about gaps along the nation's border -- especially with Mexico -- linger. One U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent was shot and killed and another wounded in Mexico on Tuesday, fueling fears that the drug war in that country is spinning out of control and increasingly affecting U.S. interests.

"I am convinced, tragically, that if the status quo remains, that violence will continue to spill over to our side of the border," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told Napolitano during Thursday's hearing. "The level of violence in Mexico continues to go up dramatically."

Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., said after the hearing the shooting was an "assassination" and "like an act of war."

For next fiscal year, the administration is seeking about $10.4 billion for Customs and Border Protection, compared to about $10.1 billion for fiscal 2010, the last year Congress approved a budget. The funding will maintain about 21,370 Border Patrol agents, while allowing for the hiring of 300 more CBP officers at ports of entry. About $5.5 billion is being sought in fiscal 2012 for ICE, on par with fiscal 2010.

The Homeland Security Department recently scrapped its program to build a virtual fence along the Southern border. Instead, the department says it will focus on what sections of the border need in terms of technology and infrastructure.

To that end, the department is seeking about $528 million for the so-called SBInet program, compared to about $825 million in actual spending in 2010.

The administration also proposes a $194-million reduction in funding for the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, an immigration-enforcement program run by the Justice Department.

But the DHS budget seeks funding to continue expanding the Secure Communities program, which runs the fingerprints of illegal immigrants who are arrested against federal databases to determine if they have a criminal record. The department is seeking $184 million for the program, a $64 million increase.