WASHINGTON – Border security policies have effectively deterred illegal immigration along the Mexican border,a reported released Thursday said,but intense enforcement without other reforms has given rise to adverse consequences.
The Center for American Progress issued “Safer than Ever: A View from the U.S.-Mexico Border,” which found that attempted illegal entries into the country have declined sharply and U.S. border communities are among the safest in the country. However,the lack of legal entry channels for work-seeking immigrants has increased human smuggling opportunities for drug cartels,the study said.
“It has undergone what can only be described as a dramatic transformation,” Marshall Fitz,the report’s author and CAP director of immigration policy,said.
The report refutes claims that the government has done little to secure the border,citing the 18,000 Border Patrol agents stationed along the U.S.-Mexico border. The 73 percent drop in apprehensions from 2000 to 2010 reflects the steep decrease in attempts to cross,which the study attributes to both enforcement and the economic downturn.
The Border Patrol reported that it catches about 80 percent of attempted crossings in the Tucson,Ariz.,sector,the most highly trafficked area.
“This paradox that people who live on the border know that it’s more secure than ever can be confirmed by talking to any mayor or community leader from San Diego to Brownsville,” Alan Bersin,commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection,said. “El Paso,having very few murders,sits a river away from Juarez,arguably the bloodiest city in the western hemisphere.”
In 2009,according to the FBI,El Paso had 12 murders. By contrast,more than 1,500 people were murdered in Juarez in 2009,which has more that twice the population of El Paso.
“Safer than Ever” responds directly to criticism by Rep. Lamar Smith,R-Texas,who called reports of successful border security enforcement “little more than spin.” His comment came after the Government Accountability Office found that 44 percent of the nearly 2,000-mile border met the two highest standards of “operational control.” The term refers to how well the Border Patrol is able to detect and apprehend illegal crossers.
“If you listen to some politicians and some radio and TV personalities,you may think that the last 18 years had never happened,” Fitz said. “The story that they tell is one that’s built on sensationalism and half-truths at best and,frankly,demagoguery or falsehoods at worst.”
The report said Smith essentially called for a complete seal of the border,which it dubbed unrealistic. It likened his demand to requiring that a city be crime free before making any criminal justice reforms.
“Sealing the border,theoretically,is possible,but there would be very few Americans who would be willing to pay the costs that are involved,” Bersin said.
Drug cartels have capitalized on the difficulty of border crossing by monopolizing human smuggling. Immigrants who hire cartel members to get them across the border face extortion,forced drug running and execution.
“The more effective the Border Patrol is,the more there will be criminality as long as there is a demand to come to the United States,” said Doris Meissner,director of U.S. immigration polity at the Migration Policy Institute and former commissioner of U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services.
Tougher enforcement has also led to unforeseen economic consequences,the report said. The high cost and danger associated with crossing the border are leading many migrant workers and their families to settle in the United States rather than return home every year. Increased wait times at checkpoints has strained legitimate business relations along the border and could have more serious consequences.
The study warned that an economic rebound and rise in border crossings will worsen existing problems. Researchers urged policymakers to establish channels for vettingeconomic migrants to eliminate the need for smugglers,among other recommendations.
“You must do border enforcement as part of the immigration equation. It is necessary,but it is not sufficient,” Meissner said. “It’s got to be part of a broader response. That’s not an imperative right now with the job market,but it is a change that needs to happen.”
Reach reporter Nadia Tamez-Robledo at [email protected] or 202-326-9865
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