Former Wilson Center Fellow and Mexico Institute colleague David Shirk testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on border security issues. The hearing, titled “Border Security: Measuring the Progress and Addressing the Challenges,” took place on Thursday, March 14, 2013 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.
Click HERE to watch a video of his testimony.
Nearly 700 miles of walls now separate the United States and Mexico. Would-be migrants still find ways over, under, through and around them. As a tool for controlling immigration to the United States, the border fortifications have been remarkably ill suited to the task. And yet these barriers are having a significant and lasting effect nonetheless: they are harming communities on both sides of the border.
We should tear them down before the damage becomes irreparable. After Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush instructed the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the construction of fortifications along the Mexican border. The result has been an astonishing array of barriers across America’s southern frontier. The number of Border Patrol agents doubled in seven years to more than 21,000. And interior enforcement was expanded to identify, detain, prosecute and deport undocumented migrants.
Once, the barren mesas and shrub-covered canyons that extend east of the Pacific Ocean held the most popular routes for illegal immigrants heading into the U.S. Dozens at a time sprinted to waiting cars or a trolley stop in San Diego, passing border agents who were too busy herding others to give pause.
Now, 20 years after that onslaught, crossing would mean scaling two fences (one topped with coiled razor wire), passing a phalanx of agents and eluding cameras positioned to capture every incursion. The difference is like “a rocket ship and a horse and buggy,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on a recent tour.
The porous border has long been the Republicans’ main argument against reforming immigration laws. The last time Congress took up the issue, in 2007, it bogged down over the government’s inability to stop the flow of undocumented laborers. More than 850,000 people were caught trying to illegally cross the nearly 2,000-mile-long southern border from Mexico that year, and the number of Mexican immigrants living in the country illegally was at a 40-year peak, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Even with the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, President George W. Bush couldn’t persuade enough Republicans to support an immigration bill.
This time, those looking to revive concerns about a lawless border must contend with a far different set of facts: The line between Mexico and the U.S. is now more secure than it’s been in decades. Obama has poured money and resources into border security. In his first term, he spent $73 billion on immigration enforcement. That’s more than the budgets of all other federal law enforcement agencies—the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals Service—combined, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group. (Bush spent $37.4 billion on immigration enforcement in his first term and $60 billion in his second.)
The recent announcements by President Barack Obama and a bipartisan group of senators outlining broad principles for immigration reform are very welcome. While the specifics of any reform will be hotly debated, a major advance has been made with the emergence of a broad political consensus, from left to right, that the current system is broken and in need of major repair.
It would be troubling, then, if this golden opportunity to fix a broken system falls victim to the very same trap that has ensnared other reform efforts. By conditioning reforms on achieving a poorly defined and much misunderstood notion of “securing the border,” the whole effort is at risk of unraveling.
El Universal, 1/28/2013
According to a report released by the U.S. Senate about the International Narcotics Control, the annual amount of money laundered and smuggled by narcotraffickers was about 39 billion dollars. The report also claims that the money was trafficked across the border by trucks and other vehicles.
This figure also demonstrates that illicit operations by Mexican cartels have increased in both the United States and Mexico since money trafficking and laundering increased from 18 billion to 39 billion between 2008 and 2012.
The New York Times, 12/01/2012
The Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau has been running a media campaign in the Mexican border state of Sonora and its neighbor to the south, Sinaloa, to dispel any notions that Arizona is unwelcoming.
(After Arizona passed its strict immigration law in 2010, the Mexican government issued a warning to its citizens, telling them to assume that they could be “harassed and questioned” in Arizona “at any time.”)
On average, it took 66 minutes to cross the border from Nogales, Mexico, to Nogales, Ariz., in 2008, costing the regional economy about $200 million, according to estimates compiled by Mr. Lee and Christopher E. Wilson of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Washington Post, 8/26/2012
Members of the Arizona Legislature’s border security advisory committee want the state to begin building a mile of fencing along the border with Mexico even though it has raised only a fraction of the needed money.
The committee has raised just 10 percent of the $2.8 million needed to complete a mile of fencing. The ultimate goal is to build 200 miles of border fencing.
Construction could begin by the end of the year using private fencing companies, some donated supplies and prison inmate labor, Smith said. The project is meant to complement the federal government’s border fencing program.
If you only listen to campaign debates, congressional hearings, and popular media, you may think that the U.S.-Mexico border is a “war zone,” where a neglectful federal government is letting migrants stream across the border while leaving U.S. citizens at the mercy of thugs. Too often, completely unsubstantiated, politicized claims are treated as facts. This polarizing debate fuels calls for massive increases in security spending and more force—even military deployments—along the border.
WOLA has dedicated some of our top experts to study what is really happening in the borderlands. Our border security project interviews Border Patrol, military and other law enforcement personnel, partner organizations, and local experts to assess the true security situation and the real impact of our current border security policies on migrants.
To make WOLA’s border research readily accessible—and respond more quickly to false or misleading claims—today WOLA is launching a new blog: Border Fact Check: Separating Rhetoric from Reality.
To check out WOLA’s new blog click on the link: Border Fact Check: Separating Rhetoric from Reality.