"We Can't Pass Immigration Reform Until We Secure the Border."
It doesn't and can't work that way. Over the last 12, years the number of border-patrol agents has doubled -- making the Customs and Border Patrol one of the largest police forces in the United States. The federal budget for border enforcement has also grown to more than $18 billion dollars a year. The added money has gone to fund the more boots on the ground, some 700 miles of physical fencing, sophisticated border technology, and a growing number of detention centers. Prosecutions for illegal entry are at an all-time high -- now representing half of all federal crimes.
With all these resources and manpower, the border has arguably become the securest it has ever been. Apprehensions have declined from a high of some 1.7 million in 2000 to now just a fifth of those levels. Crime rates are also down. Despite sharing a border with Ciudad Juárez, one of the deadliest cities in the world over the past few years, El Paso reported only 16 homicides during 2011. The numbers for less-reported crimes, such as kidnapping, have also fallen. The much-discussed threat of spillover violence has not only failed to materialize in El Paso, but also in other border linked cities -- including San Antonio, San Diego, and Austin -- all of which boast safer records than similar-size cities far from the Rio Grande.
In the end, American politicians must recognize that the border can't be sealed; it can only be managed. And with more than a billion dollars' worth of legal goods, 400,000 people, 13,000 trucks, and 1,000 railroad cars crossing each day, the costs of more enforcement go beyond Homeland Security budgets, as billions in revenue and an estimated 6 million American jobs depend on U.S.-Mexico trade.
The obsession with securing the border also ignores the changing realities of illegal immigration. At least 40 percent of the unauthorized population in the United States came in legally, and then overstayed their visas. Higher fences and more border policing will do nothing to staunch these flows.
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