Secure borders require more than a danged fence

Sep 25th, 2011 | By | Category: immigration

The enforcement-only camp has gathered momentum around the idea that a fence will keep us safe from the illegal intruders that threaten to ‘”destroy our way of life.”

Because this sounds like a logical solution, this country has spent billions (yes, billions) on an enforcement policy that focuses on fence building and technologies while failing to address the most critical aspects of security.

Meanwhile, the members of Mexico’s drug cartels, the real intruders causing destruction, continue to find ways around, above and below whatever physical barriers we put in place.

And while the fence and increased numbers of border patrol officers have made illegal crossings into this country more difficult, they have not stopped the flow of people or drugs. Instead, crossers now rely on costly human smugglers, a growing portion of the drug cartels’ criminal operations, to transport them to safety. The cartels turn a huge profit, often times demanding thousands of dollars per person, while the U.S. loses billions in failed attempts to reduce the demand or lure of illegally migrating into the United States.

In other words, we lose; they win.

But still our politicians espouse the security of fences, ignoring realities and turning their backs on policy proposals that could actually end the cartels’ control at the border and beyond.

Perhaps it’s time for a new approach.

One policy idea worth trying was recently put forth by Arizona’s former Attorney General Terry Goddard. Before dismissing this approach simply because it’s authored by a Democrat, consider that Mr. Goddard is critical of both the current administration’s immigration policies as well as the current do-nothing attitude of Congress.

In his paper for the Immigration Policy Center, Mr. Goddard suggests we stop playing defense at the border and instead go on the offense. He questions why, if we can hunt down and kill Osama bin Laden, could we not also track down the leaders of Mexico’s cartels. He recommends a multi-faceted method to security that includes “stopping the flow of cartel money, going after the cartel leaders, and dismantling their criminal organizations.” Mr. Goddard goes on to say, “Until the cartels are eliminated, the border cannot be considered secure. Period.”

This seems to be an issue both sides of the debate can get behind. Who doesn’t want to stop the cartels, and why wouldn’t we work to put an end to the destruction and misery they have caused on both sides of the border?

But even if we successfully bring down the cartels, we must also address the second pillar of border security: legal migration. Without a means to legally address the economic needs of businesses, particularly businesses that require low skilled workers, we cannot end the lure that convinces thousands of people to risk their lives and drain their savings each year in an attempt to live and work in the United States.

And though some may think visa reform is an attempt by liberals to win votes, a vocal minority of Republicans and Libertarians are recognizing the futility of spending billions on border security without addressing reforms to legal migration.

The best visual representation of how complicated and nonsensical the visa process has become is highlighted in this link. It turns the question of illegal immigration on its head by asking, “what part of LEGAL immigration don’t you understand?” Based on this chart, I’d say few of us have any understanding of it whatsoever.

Recently, at AZEIR’s Arizona Immigration Solutions Conference in Mesa, conservative Republicans and Libertarians from across the country spoke out about the economic casualties of ignoring free market principles and instituting enforcement-only policies that hamper growth and impede the hiring of workers by small business owners and farmers.

A Republican mayor from a small Georgia town, Paul Bridges, talked about his state’s recent Arizona-styled immigration laws and how those new mandates drove out workers and devastated his community’s economy. When the farmers in that state became outraged over the loss of workers needed to bring in their crops, the governor responded by sending ex-cons into the fields. On the surface, that would appear to be sensible plan, except the probationers weren’t accustomed to hard labor and most of the berries rotted. Mayor Bridges summed it up by saying, “We turned hard workers into criminals, and criminals into poor workers.”

Conservative Republicans from Utah spoke the Utah Compact and their state’s recent attempts to address the failures of the federal government by implementing tougher enforcement measures coupled with a guest worker program. The guest worker program aims to bring undocumented workers out of the shadows and ensure gainful employment and the collection of taxes while creating a system where all individuals have proper documentation. The Utah representatives agreed that their efforts at reform, while difficult and painstaking, sparked a conversation about how to realistically solve the problems of illegal immigration. They also acknowledged that states could do little to truly tackle reform; real reform must come from the federal government.

But the biggest news from this conference was the idea that consensus, not just within the parties but among the parties, exists. Rarely do we hear that word when watching, listening and reading stories about illegal immigration. Yet these participants, both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats, agreed that the current system has failed and states’ efforts to fix it have only served to create additional problems and divisiveness among citizens.

So while the solutions may not be easy, they are not impossible, either. While there are areas we may disagree on, there are also many areas of agreement.

Perhaps if we focused on just two areas – visa reform and the elimination of the cartels – we could start moving away from discord and division and toward a real policy to secure our borders.

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3 Comments to “Secure borders require more than a danged fence”

  1. Julie Jorgensen says:

    Your wisdom on this topic is refreshing. Thanks for having the courage to stand up for real solutions to a very divisive topic.

  2. J.D. Ricks says:

    Thank you for seeing past all of the emotional yelling and finger pointing and looking at the issue from a sensible standpoint. I have spent much time in Latin America and feel like I have a good grasp of the issue from both sides. May I offer the following points to ponder?
    1- The cartels exist because we, the USA, are willing to fork out roughly 40 billion dollars a year on the “products” that the cartels offer. Mexico is neither a major producer, nor a major consumer of drugs. Most of the drugs come from South America and the vast majority of them are consumed here in the good ol’ USA.
    2- It is nearly impossible (as your link points out) to immigrate legally to the US. Those who do either have money, connections, or both. Even though my wife and I were married legally here in the US, the US Immigration extorted nearly 3 months pay from me before they would cave in and grant her a green card. The fact that we were “legally” entitled to same made no difference to them. In case I have not made my point; Most ICE agents are corrupt or easily corruptible, a point not lost on cartel leadership.
    3- Offering jobs to foreigners and then punishing them for coming here to accept those jobs is like offering your dog a steak and then beating him for taking a bite out of it.

  3. Jay Fleming says:

    Mr. Goddard suggests we stop playing defense at the border and instead go on the offense and track down the leaders of Mexico’s cartels. He recommends a multi-faceted method to security that includes “stopping the flow of cartel money, going after the cartel leaders, and dismantling their criminal organizations.” Mr. Goddard goes on to say, “Until the cartels are eliminated, the border cannot be considered secure. Period.”

    Sound great, but how many times have we seen a bunch of high level law enforcement, a pile of drugs, money, and guns that extends across the stage, and they assure us they have dealt a blow to the cartel leadership?

    What they did is create job opening, and the lower level cartel people will kill each other, and anyone in their way, until someone wins, and then we see a bunch of high level law enforcement, a pile of drugs, money, and guns that extends across the stage.

    As long as cartels make billions of dollars from marijuana, this will never end. Cartels lose tons each month at the border, tons, at $1000 per pound (1/4 the price of US marijuana) that’s $2,000,000 a ton. They lose well over $100,000,000 a month simply as a cost of doing business, and still manage to bribe enough government officials to threaten the Mexican government.

    We can’t arrest our way out of this, we can’t, and it weakens our border, and our security…

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