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The Business of Border Enforcement
By Ivone Guillen, Immigration Policy Fellow
The U.S. government has spent an estimated $35 billion on the U.S.-Mexican border since 1994.
It’s fair to ask, have the results been what the United States intends and needs?
In developing a border security strategy, experts agree that, “The U.S. government should focus its enforcement efforts on combating genuine security risks along our borders.”
Studies show, however, that since 1992, “the growth in spending has outpaced increases in apprehensions being made at the border, so each arrest costs more. As a result of the increased enforcement, immigrants have been pushed to more dangerous terrain where there is less surveillance, [more] extreme environments, and more natural barriers which create higher risks.”
A border fence is erected in Yuma, AZ, as part of the multi-billion-dollar Secure Border Initiative. The construction of hundreds of miles of fencing was contracted to the Army Corps of Engineers at an estimated cost of between $400,000 and $4.8 million per mile.
Adding to the dangers posed by nature are the dangers posed by human beings. In one recent incident, 72 immigrants were killed in northeast Mexico on their way to the United States. The group, mostly from Central and South American countries, was initially intercepted by members of the Zetas criminal organization who tried to coerce the immigrants into joining their organization. When the immigrants refused, they were killed.
All the technology and extra supervision on the border has not made it safer for immigrants. Rather, forcing immigrants to cross through the desert has increased the incidence of human trafficking, sexual assault, beatings, robberies, kidnappings, and killings.
The U.S. government should focus its border policies on combating the criminal element that poses the biggest threat both to immigrants and to U.S. national security – not on intercepting the vast majority of immigrants, who are migrating to the United States simply because they need to feed their families.
Understanding immigrants’ reasons for leaving home is essential to finding solutions to the immigration dilemma. When we consider the root causes of migration, it becomes clear why fences and other expensive border enforcement efforts – or even the unpredictable dangers of crime and desert travel on foot – are not deterring large numbers of people from trying to cross the border. They have hungry children to feed and aging parents to shelter. An effective approach to immigration must cross the border to address the “push” factors in immigrants’ home countries.
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