The Obama administration would have us believe that the U.S. border with Mexico is now tightly controlled by the Border Patrol, and that illegal border crossings on any large scale are a thing of the past. In their opinion, there is no longer any need to worry that granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens might lead to further illegal immigration and demands for another amnesty, as happened after the 1986 amnesty bill.
President Obama said on January 29 that during his first term he “strengthened security at the borders so that we could finally stem the tide of illegal immigrants. We put more boots on the ground on the southern border than at any time in our history. And today, illegal crossings are down nearly 80 percent from their peak in 2000.”
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano admitted, in her February 13 testimony before a Senate Committee, that only a few years ago there was “a flood of illegal immigration” across our southern border. However, she assured the Senators, “That situation no longer exists.”
Napolitano put great emphasis on two points. First, the number of illegal immigrants being caught at the border has decreased in recent years. Second, a great deal of money has been spent in an effort to strengthen border security. So much has been accomplished, she believes, that now “passage of the President’s reform principles [including amnesty] is the single best step we can take to enhance border security”.
Similarly optimistic statements regarding tightened control over the border with Mexico come from the leaders of the Border Patrol. They told Congress that “the border is more secure than ever before”, and that “apprehension activity remained at historic lows”. They also emphasized the increased resources being devoted to the Mexican border.
There is no question that the U.S. government has, beginning in the Bush administration, devoted more resources to border protection and has greatly increased the number of Border Patrol agents stationed there. Unfortunately, government spending does not always guarantee results. The real question is whether the additional spending on manpower and equipment has genuinely improved the effectiveness of the Border Patrol to a degree that would allow a reasonable and objective person to say that the border with Mexico can now be described as “secure”.
The Obama administration argues that border security is demonstrated by fewer arrests of people trying to cross the border, and other evidence that fewer border crossings are now being attempted. This argument suffers from two serious flaws. First, the recession reduced the number of available jobs and has clearly caused fewer Mexicans to seek employment in the United States. Second, the government’s own figures show that border crossings not related to employment have not declined, and appear to be increasing.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), in their December 2012 study of border security, noted that the Border Patrol acknowledged the recession as a cause of fewer crossing attempts (in fact, it was at the top of the list). The Pew Hispanic Trust, in their April 23, 2012 report, found that 1.4 million Mexicans had returned to Mexico from the United States between 2005 and 2010, and attributed this partly to “weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets”. The Pew Center drew the logical conclusion that “It is possible that the Mexican immigration wave will resume as the U.S. economy recovers.”
Is the border so secure that a new “immigration wave” could be turned back, with few making it into the U.S.? The evidence on that point is not encouraging.
This is what the GAO had to say last year. “Border Patrol reported that across the nearly 2,000 southwest border miles, resources were in place to apprehend activity at the immediate border for 129 southwest border miles, or at some distance from the border for an additional 744 southwest border miles. . . . Border Patrol reported that for nearly two-thirds of the remaining 1,120 southwest border miles, resources were in place to achieve a high probability to detect illegal activity, but the ability to respond may be compromised by insufficient resources or inaccessible terrain”. In other words, about 6% of the border might be considered truly secure. For another 38%, the Border Patrol hopes to be able to capture illegal aliens “at some distance from the border” after they have been allowed to enter the U.S. The remaining 56% of the border is not secure at all.
However, there is doubt even concerning the 44% for which the Border Patrol claims some degree of security. The GAO reports that over the past five years, the number of drug seizures at the border has increased by 83%. This must indicate a large increase in drug smuggling, if the decline in arrests of illegal aliens demonstrates a decline in successful crossings there. If drug smugglers can get across the border, there can be little doubt that those seeking jobs will be able to do the same.
The GAO also found that apprehensions of possible terrorists had increased, which casts even more doubt on the claim that fewer apprehensions of employment seekers proves that the border is now secure.
There is also important anecdotal evidence. The GAO, rather than rely entirely on the Border Patrol’s own claims, interviewed some Arizona residents living near the border. These people said that there had been some decline in illegal immigrants crossing their land, but no decline in drug smuggling.
There is even reason to believe that the possibility of amnesty is already causing in increase in border crossings so that they can qualify for amnesty. Leaks from within the Border Patrol indicate that the number of crossings is up in 2013. A story in the Washington Post confirmed that northern Mexico was filled with people preparing to attempt the crossing.
The Obama administration’s claims that the border is secure, and that we have no need to fear another huge wave of illegal immigration are clearly wrong. The border is by no means secure, and an improved U.S. economy will once again draw people across our southern border. They will be further encouraged to come illegally if a second amnesty, like that of 1986, leads them to believe that yet another will be offered at some future date.
Congress should reject amnesty, and focus on finding more effective means of protecting our southern border from illegal immigrants, drug smugglers, and terrorists.