By Mike Lillis - 05/11/11 10:41 AM EDT
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) conceded this week that security on the Mexican border has improved under the Obama administration – but not, he said, because of the president's policies.
"We are better than we were, I will grant the president that," Cornyn told Fox News on Tuesday. "But a lot of that's … because of what the Bush administration and Congress did during the preceding eight years, not what President Obama and his administration [have] done."
Cornyn, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee's immigration and border security subpanel, was quick to say the Mexican frontier "is still a very porous border," and he echoed the Republicans' near-unanimous message that Congress should not tackle immigration reform before the border is fully secure.
"People are coming from around the world through what they know is a porous border to come to the United States without us knowing who they are, what their motives are," Cornyn said. "This is a national security problem."
Still, his concession that the border situation has improved under Obama was unique Tuesday amid a torrent of GOP criticism that the White House hasn't done nearly enough to plug the southern border.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas), for instance, said Obama's claims that border security has improved under his watch are "far from reality."
"Our immigration system is broken because the Obama administration has refused to fully enforce the immigration laws already on the books," Smith said in a statement.
Republican opponents of comprehensive immigration reform often cite a February report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that the Border Patrol has "operational control" of just 44 percent of southern border.
"We're treading water," Cornyn said, referring to the GAO figures.
Obama, during Tuesday's speech, took issue with such sentiments, noting that the nation's 20,000 Border Patrol agents are more than double the number of just seven years ago.
Additionally, the president said, "We tripled the number of intelligence analysts working at the border. I've deployed unmanned aerial vehicles to patrol the skies from Texas to California. We have forged a partnership with Mexico to fight the transnational criminal organizations that have affected both of our countries.
"We have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement," he added.
Not everyone has cheered the enhanced enforcement efforts of the past two years. Indeed, even as Republicans have accused the president of doing too little to enforce laws at the border, some Democratic supporters of immigration reform have been critical of Obama for doing too much.
"The president is clearly committed to immigration reform," Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told MSNBC Tuesday. "The problem is that what the administration has done has been all on the enforcement side and has used none of its discretionary powers, administrative powers to provide some relief to immigrants in this country."