Immigration Reform Bill Gives Big Money Straight to Largest Defense Contractors

Wednesday, July 03, 2013
Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopter (photo: Chris Ratcliffe, Bloomberg)

If the U.S. Senate’s version of the immigration reform bill becomes law, the nation’s largest defense contractors will be quite pleased.


Included in the legislation designed to clear the way for millions of illegal immigrants to become citizens are pricey upgrades for improving security along the U.S.-Mexico border. These upgrades consist of specific purchases that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) must make, as written into the proposed law.


For starters, six airborne radar systems made by Northrop Grumman will be purchased, at a cost of $9.3 million a piece.


Helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky will benefit, too, from the legislation, through the Border Patrol buying 15 Black Hawks at $17 million each.


The government even has to buy 17 UH-1N helicopters from Bell Helicopter, even though the company no longer makes that particular model.


Watchdog groups say that these forced purchases prevent competition and constitute an end-run around the bidding process.


The spending requirements—which critics say resemble the old and now abolished practice of earmarks—are part of $46 billion in border security improvements that were folded into the Senate bill to win over Republican votes.


Thirty billion dollars will go towards hiring 19,000 more Border Patrol agents, a doubling of the current force which immigration experts claim—according to Matea Gold of The Washington Post—is both “wasteful and unnecessary.” An additional $7.5 billion will help build 350 miles of fencing along the border, and $4.5 billion will buy new border technology.


The plan provides a 60-day window for Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to substitute “equivalent brands” for the items on the list of required defense industry purchases. But critics say that is unlikely, given that the product list is so specific.


“Lawmakers have put their thumb on the scale for particular products and technologies,” Steve Ellis, vice president of the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, told the Post. “And that is hard for an agency to ignore.”


The parent companies of the products’ manufacturers have donated about $11.5 million to federal candidates and their political campaigns during the past four years, with half coming from Northrop Grumman, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman


To Learn More:

Immigration Deal Would Boost Defense Manufacturers (by Matea Gold, Washington Post)

Defense Contractors Turn to Border Control for New Profits (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)       

Texas Outsourcing Border Security (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Virtual Border Fence May be Dead, but Spending on Surveillance Continues (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)     


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