Center for American
Progress: U.S.-Mexico Border Is Safer Than Ever
August 6, 2011
the conservative “border security first” rhetoric—the primary obstacle
to comprehensive immigration reform – a recent USA Today article shows
that border communities are safer on average than U.S. cities and a New
York Times report suggests that net illegal immigration from Mexico may
now be at zero. These findings underscore those in the Center for
American Progress report, “Safer than Ever: A View from the U.S. –
Mexico Border,” released in conjunction with the CAP event today “The
State of U.S./Mexico Border Security,” both discussing the achievements
made in reducing unlawful entries across the border and renewing the
call for comprehensive legal reform—the absence of which has triggered a
number of unintended and counterproductive consequences.
As a result of increased DHS personnel along the southern border and a
number of major improvements in technology and infrastructure, the
Border Patrol can more effectively monitor the border and curb the flow
of unauthorized crossings. Examples of the unprecedented resource
The amount of Border Patrol agents has
doubled since 2004—now we have nearly 21,000, 18,000 of whom are
deployed along the southern border.
A quarter of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement officers are now deployed along the southern border with
double their previous number of personnel assigned to the Border
Enforcement Security Taskforces, focusing on disrupting criminal
President Obama has deployed and extended
the mission of 1,200 National Guard troops to assist local law
enforcement identify smugglers with sophisticated Defense Department
technologies and fill manpower gaps.
DHS has completed nearly 650 miles of
fencing, including 300 miles of vehicle barriers and 350 miles of
The use of advanced detection
technologies, including remote video surveillance systems, mobile
surveillance, and thermal imaging systems, has been broadly expanded
by DHS, enabling officers to monitor a broader swath of the border
in real time, despite the difficulties that stretches of high
density areas and rocky terrain present.
The map below,
included in the Center for American Progress report, presents the number
of apprehensions sector by sector, as defined by the Border Patrol, over
time to demonstrate how the massive investments in manpower and
infrastructure have altered migration flows, while highlighting the
challenges that remain.
The decreases in Border Patrol
apprehensions reflect a dramatic downturn in attempted entries. In the
San Diego sector, for example, there were more than 565,000 in 1992. By
2000, with significant fencing in place and increased manpower, that
number had dropped to 151,000. Though in 2000, El Centro had 238,000
apprehensions and Yuma had 110,000, they dropped to 32,000 and 7,100
respectively, by FY 2010. Challenges in the Tucson sector persist, with
212,000 apprehensions though experiencing a decrease of more than
400,000 between 2000 and 2010.
With pressure on the border diminished by these enforcement efforts and
the severe economic downturn, we have a unique opportunity to develop
forward-looking immigration and border policies. If we fail to reform
our legal system, however, we can expect the unintended by-products of
this singular focus on enforcement to worsen when the economy improves.
Attempting to choke off migration without providing alternative legal
pathways to channel some level of legitimate economic migration has led
to a number of perverse results. These counterproductive results
wait times for pedestrian and vehicular crossings, due to higher
scrutiny of cross-border traffic, deters money being spent in the
United States, have hurt U.S. businesses and workers that rely on
this revenue from Mexico—our nation’s second-largest trading
The cost and danger of crossing have
caused migrants to deepen their roots, rather than continuing the
once-circular flow of economic migrants between the U.S. and Mexico.
Intending economic migrants have been
pushed into the orbit of violent crime syndicates and ruthless drug
cartels control virtually all illicit cross-border traffic now,
including human smuggling.
Increased government control over vast
swaths of the border has caused a relocation of entry points to more
remote and more dangerous junctures; literally thousands of people
have died attempting to cross the border since this buildup began.
Migrants are more easily forced into
engaging in other illegal activities to escape the prospect of
execution or violent reprisals against their families, as a result
of the necessity of using a smuggler to cross in more dangerous
areas and the monopolization of the market by cartels.
Now is the time to
construct an immigration system that preserves the gains in control
while disaggregating beneficial migration from the violent drug trade.