Another problem is fickle political attention. The politicians in Washington seem to think that a surge in border spending and personnel is enough to stop illegal crossings — to “solve” the problem — after which the resources can simply be moved to another purpose. The president’s FY 2012 budget, for instance, calls for tens of millions of dollars in cuts to border-security programs, including fencing, technology, and air operations. On a small scale we saw this same impulse at the Buenos Aires Refuge; the National Guardsmen who had been stationed there as spotters were withdrawn at the beginning of last month, and lo and behold, illegal crossings started to increase. This impulse to declare the border “solved” is powerful, both as a pretext for amnesty and as an opportunity to direct public funds to other, more politically profitable uses.
And a gaping hole in the border is the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation. Its border with Mexico is marked only by vehicle barriers, and a large number of the residents are in cahoots with the smugglers. The tribal authorities are cool to the Border Patrol and have not allowed any camera towers on their land. Until Congress compels more extensive cooperation with border enforcement, this jurisdiction, nearly the size of Connecticut, will remain a prime target for smugglers.
The bad news border-wide is that, as the Government Accountability Office reported last year, only 44 percent of the border with Mexico is under “operational control.” What is the meaning of this bureaucratese? As defined by the Border Patrol, the designation “does not require its agents to be able to detect and apprehend all illegal entries.” Only 15 percent of the area under “operational control,” or a grand total of 129 miles out of about 2,000, is fully controlled. We have a long way to go.
Neither the administration’s triumphalist tone nor some immigration hawks’ despair is a useful guide to policy. We are nowhere close to the kind of control over our frontiers that is a prerequisite — but only one of the prerequisites — for starting a discussion about amnesty for those illegals already here. At the same time, things have gotten better, and can continue to get better, with the steady application of existing tools and normal law-enforcement methods.
America needs neither amnesty nor electrified fences. Let’s hope that someday we elect an administration that understands that.
— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.