Stop me if you've heard this one: the border between Mexico and the United States is an open highway for undocumented immigrants and before we fix our broken immigration system we must secure our porous border.
Given all of the progress made along our border, crime is down, trade is up, legal movement of people eclipses undocumented migration, it has become increasingly clear that the prism with which our country views a "secure border" is warped. While there has been progress made of course there is more to do. As such it is unsurprising that Republicans are demanding greater investment in border enforcement as a trade off for supporting a pathway to citizenship. As this debate continues to heat up what is really needed is a better understanding of how our southwest border works and what has occurred there over the last decade.
The border works best when it enhances the legal movement of people and goods, not when it stops things from entering altogether. If Congress is looking to add more resources to our southern border, they are not needed in the areas between our ports of entry, but rather at them.
This was certainly the message Marc R. Rosenblum, Specialist in Immigration Policy at the Congressional Research Service presented in his recent testimony before the Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security:
"Since 2002, far more resources have been devoted to enforcement between ports of entry than to enforcement and trade and travel facilitation at ports of entry or work site enforcement. This comparison appears to hold across several different categories of comparison: personnel, appropriations, technology acquisitions, etc. Little is known about illegal flows through ports of entry, or how such flows are affected by tougher enforcement between the ports."
None other then Arizona Senator John McCain has come out and highlighted success at our border. "There is no question that there has been a significant reduction in illegal crossings over the past five years." ...apprehensions by the border patrol have dropped 70 percent from 2005 to 2012." All one has to do is watch this video to see just how little Senator McCain's own constituents actually believe has occurred. Which is unfortunate, if people understood what has actually occurred both on the U.S. side and perhaps more importantly the Mexican side of the border they would not be so skeptical.
Mexico is not the same country it was during the last great undocumented migration into the U.S. Mexico is now the thirteenth largest economy in the world, our third largest goods trading partner and second largest export market. For the first time ever Mexico has a self sustaining middle class. As such there is no longer the urgent need for low skilled migrants to leave the country. The birth rate per Mexican woman has dropped significantly from 7.3 in 1960 to only 2 today. In the end dramatically reducing the number of undocumented migration into the U.S. from Mexico was a simple case of economics.
On the other side of the border the Obama administration has put significant muscle behind our enforcement apparatus. Since 2004, the Border Patrol has doubled in size, making our borders better staffed today than ever before. In 2011, Customs and Border Patrol increased the number of Border Patrol agents to 21,444, an increase of 886 agents from the previous year. The result of all of these developments is that the net migration of undocumented immigrants from Mexico is now zero and the flow into the U.S. from Mexican migrants we saw over the last decade is unlikely to occur in the future.
At the end of the day the strongest border security measure we can possibly have is fixing our immigration system. Giving undocumented immigrants the legal means to come and contribute to our country is the easiest way to prevent them from coming in without documentation. More border enforcement is undoubtedly coming, but this in and of itself is not a bad thing. With a greater understanding of the region, pragmatic investment at our ports of entry we could further enhance the legal movement of goods and people from all over the world. A direct pathway to citizenship is absolutely the preferred option going forward. However If more border enforcement is the only way to get the GOP to agree to a pathway to citizenship, if they are willing to create finite achievable metrics, given the recent transformation we have seen in the region, that may not be the worst thing. For those currently living in the shadows it could be a good thing.