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October 19, 2009   View Discussion

Reform Series: Border Security

This is Part Four of a series on comprehensive immigration reform. Here’s an index of all of the entries in the series:

Introduction To Comprehensive Immigration Reform
An Earned Path To Citizenship
The Role of Law Enforcement
Undocumented Youth: The DREAM Act
Family Reunification
Border Security
Future Immigration Flows

At the beginning of each installment, we summarize Long Island Wins’ position on the issue at hand. Here’s why we think border security issues should be addressed in immigration reform:

We recognize that border security will be part of comprehensive immigration reform. We support smart and professional border security that seeks to maintain legal order rather than simply punishing immigrants. And, of course, in order to work, changes to border security must be tied to immigration reforms that give workers a chance to earn a path to citizenship if they play by the rules.

Why do we need border security reforms? Jennifer Allen, executive director of Border Action Network, a non-profit, human rights organization based in Arizona-Mexico border communities, tells us:

When something hasn’t worked for more than a decade, costs billions of taxpayer dollars, contributes to the deaths of men, women and children, and is an affront to our country’s largest trading partner, shouldn’t we try another approach?
This is the case with our current border policy, and it’s time for new solutions.

Over the last ten years, thousands of National Guard and nearly twenty thousand Border Patrol agents have been deployed along the 1,951-mile stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border. Stadium-style lights glare along the political divide, control rooms monitor hi-tech sensors tucked under mesquite trees, and Apache helicopters and million-dollar unmanned aerial vehicles scour the landscape.

During the same time, we’ve seen drug cartel violence in Mexican border towns spiral out of control. Immigrants have not been deterred from seeking jobs or reuniting with family. And terrorist threats have not been detected on our southern border. According to a recent report released jointly by the ACLU and the Mexican Commission for Human Rights, on average, one person has died every twenty-four hours trying to enter the United States. The report estimates that more than 5,600 people have died trying to enter the U.S. from Mexico between 1994 and 2008.

Given our country’s economic crisis, we cannot afford for Congress and Homeland Security to throw more money at the problem and rely on a more-of-the-same approach. Last month, the General Accounting Office released a report noting that the government has spent $2.4 billion on border walls and other “physical infrastructure,” that it could cost $6.5 billion over 20 years to maintain it, and that there is no system to determine whether the build-up on the border has actually been effective.

An effective border policy should be broken into three separate but related policy approaches that address cross-border organized crime, national security, and regulation of immigration. Each is a separate issue, with distinct roots, impacts, and solutions that warrants its own approach. Effective policy would respond to drug cartels differently than it would a young man looking for work or someone plotting a terrorist attack.

Our border policy must take into account that more than six and half million people live in border towns on the U.S. side of the US-Mexico border. Unfortunately, policy decisions have been made as if the border were a barren, uninhabited zone. In fact, the border is literally the gateway to trade and commerce with the U.S.’s largest trading partner -Mexico. It is also home to millions of U.S. citizens.

A recent study looked at the economic impact of Mexican visitors in Arizona and found that every day, on average, more than 65,000 Mexican residents visit Arizona. These visitors spend over $7,350,000 a day in stores, restaurants, hotels and other businesses on a daily basis. The flow of people and commerce back and forth across the border is an essential element of U.S. Border States’ economies.

We have found that virtually every sector of border communities agrees with the need to have a more effective border policy. In 2005, Border Action Network helped create the US-Mexico Border and Immigration Task Force. This coalition of local elected officials, law enforcement, business, faith, and community groups brings the expertise and vision of those that live in the border region directly to policy makers. The following are some of the key recommendations of the task force:

-Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Bringing our immigration policy up-to-date so that it can adjust to labor needs, leveling the playing field for workers and employers by providing a path to citizenship for immigrants here without legal status, eliminating the years of backlogged immigration applications, along with other reforms to our immigration policies that will take the pressure off the border and provide a way for well-meaning people to enter this country legally, orderly, and safely.

-Efficient Ports of Entry
Ports of entry are where most drugs and other contraband are seized. However, since disproportionate resources are focused in between ports of entry, few vehicles are effectively screened. Better infrastructure, technology, staffing, and other resources are needed at the ports of entry to better manage the flow of people and cargo across the border. Every minute spent waiting in lines to cross the border into the U.S. translates into lost revenue for border towns.

-Accountability and Oversight
We have spent billions on a militarized approach that has not demonstrated results, has harmed communities, and has endangered lives. We are calling for the creation of an independent review commission that can provide thoughtful and long overdue analysis of border policy. The commission would have the legal authority to provide recommendations regarding federal immigration and security policy, enforcement, and complaint procedures.

-Community Security
The people that live in the border region are the government’s best tools in the fight against crime and national security threats. However, local residents must have trust and confidence in federal border agents and not feel like the targets of security operations. More improved and ongoing training for border agents would be one step forward in that direction. For example, we are concerned that the only training agents receive in constitutional and human rights protections is at the academy, yet they utilize their knowledge of peoples’ rights every day in every interaction with residents and migrants alike.

Our communities and our country deserve far better than just camouflage Band-Aids that are not going to lead towards greater security. There is no single quick fix to the complex situation on the border. We need meaningful, focused, and cost-effective strategies that recognize the complexity of border security and integrate community security, economic health, accountability, and human rights.

The stakes are too high to do anything less.

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