Sen. Jeff Flake: ‘We Don’t Need a Sealed Border, We Need a Secure Border’

By Fred Lucas | April 1, 2013 | 11:31 AM EDT

U.S.-Mexico border. (AP Photo.)

( – Sen. Jeff Flake (R- Ariz.), one of eight senators who supports a “pathway” to legalization for border-jumpers, says the U.S. needs a secure border – but not one that is “sealed.”

Flake, appearing Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” was asked to explain what “operational control” of the border means in layman’s terms:

“I was in both the Yuma sector last week and the Tucson sector and there is a difference,” Flake said. “In the Yuma sector, people still get through, but our Border Patrol and other agents have a reasonable expectation of catching them. That’s probably the best explanation of what operational control means.

“You’ll never stop everyone from coming through, and you have a lot of commerce, legal commerce, that happens at the border as well,” Flake said. “So when people talk about having a sealed border, we don’t need a sealed border. We need a secure border. That’s what we have in Yuma, we’re just quite a ways from that in the Tucson sector.”

Flake agreed that gaining operational control of the border would trigger a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens, under a plan advanced by the bipartisan “gang of eight,” which includes Flake as well as Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Democrat Sens. Charles Schumer of New York, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Michael Bennett of Colorado.

Flake said the Homeland Security Department must first do a better job of measuring border security.

He noted that in one recent report, DHS used “increased apprehensions” as an indicator of improved border security, and in another part of the same report, DHS used “decreased apprehensions” to demonstrate the same thing.

“So we’ve had trouble getting a good metrics out of the Department of Homeland Security. We’re going to have to have that before we move further.”

The gang of eight supports an immigration reform plan that they say would combine tougher enforcement at the border with providing legal status if certain requirements are met for the 11 million illegal aliens who are already in the United States. Supporters call this a “pathway to citizenship,” but opponents call it “amnesty.”

Republican members of the gang of eight want to move cautiously, and have called for triggers on border security before moving forward with a pathway to citizenship.