Measuring Progress in Border Security – A Good Start from the GAO

Border Fence Arizona and MexicoBy Edward Alden, 1/15/2013

How hard is it for migrants to cross the southwest border illegally and enter into the United States? That question has long been difficult to answer, but it is one that has become more urgent as Congress prepares once again to consider a broader immigration reform. A new report from the Government Accountability Office gives a surprising assessment – that it appears to have become far more difficult than most Americans realize.

The GAO report is the first to assess the number of successful illegal entries across the border using a method called “known illegal entries,” or “known flow” for short. The number of illegal entries is the key statistic that matters in the debate over border enforcement. The U.S. government has for many years reported the number of “apprehensions” at the border – arrests of those attempting to enter illegally. Last year, that number fell to 327,000 at the southwest border, the lowest since 1972. While the decline in apprehensions from its 2001 peak of more than 1.6 million certainly suggests that many fewer people are trying to cross illegally, it tells us nothing definitive about the numbers who are still successfully evading the Border Patrol between the ports of entry and entering the United States.

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Campaign 2012: Immigration

CFR, 1/04/2012

A major overhaul of U.S. immigration laws is not realistic in the current political climate, yet the winner of the 2012 presidential election still must confront the issue of millions of illegal immigrants, says CFR’s Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow Edward Alden. “It will likely take a level of leadership out of the president and out of Congress that we haven’t seen in recent years,” Alden says in a CFR 2012 election video issue brief. “It may be too much to hope for.”

Citing the failures of the past three administrations, Alden says the best that can be expected is a series of piecemeal reforms to longstanding problems with U.S. immigration laws. Recent reductions in illegal crossings on the Mexico border have shown that U.S. border security is dramatically improved. But Alden says enforcement alone is not going to solve the problem of legacy illegal immigrants, “and it hurts our economy to spend that much on deportation.”