Opponents of immigration reform routinely insist that the federal government must first secure our Mexico border and enforce our current immigration laws before any new reform happens. Ten years ago, they had a point. At that time, large-scale undocumented migration had continued for some years, the border was relatively porous, and immigration enforcement in the country was not very organized.
Ten years later, however, the facts on the ground have changed dramatically.
Border security has grown exponentially, although attempts to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2006 and 2007 didn’t succeed. Through administration policy, congressional appropriations, and the passage of certain enforcement legislation such as the Secure Fence Act, the federal government has unleashed massive enforcement resources at the border.
Today’s Border Security
In 2007, Congress laid out four areas of border security: 1) more border agents, 2) increased border barriers, 3) harsher consequences for illegal border crossing and 4) achieving an “operational control” of the Mexico border.
Since then, the U.S. has surpassed those benchmarks, beating the 2007 goals. An infographic released by the Center for American Progress details the categories in which the nation topped its benchmarks:
1) Adding 1,370 Border agents and 1,200 National Guard units beyond the goal.
2) Adding six unmanned aircraft systems (2 over goal), mobile surveillance systems (47 over goal), radar and camera towers (168 over goal), aircraft stationed on the Mexico border (120 over goal), mobile video surveillance systems (179 over goal). All categories total over goal. The nation added 651 miles of fencing, just one mile under goal.
3) The U.S. can now detain 1,300 more illegal crossers per day than the 2007 goal. Apprehended crossers are no longer released across the border but instead are returned to their countries of origin now. The “consequence delivery system” was extended to the entire border, increasing penalties for apprehended unauthorized crossers .
“Operational control” has effectively been attained. Unauthorized crossers are now forced into the most dangerous and inhospitable areas to cross, in many cases causing death. Homeland Security standards are met in 81% of the border. A 100% sealed border prior to considering immigration reform would be unreasonably expensive and unnecessary.
State of the Border
The effects of this increase in security have been profound. As the Center for American Progress notes:
· Net undocumented migration is now at or below zero.
· The number of people apprehended crossing the border has decreased, even as border agents now patrol every single mile of the border every day and in many places have 100 percent eyes on the border—meaning that they can view nearly all attempts to cross the border in real time.
· Annual deportations have reached historic levels.
· There are more “boots on the ground” at the border than there have ever been in history.
Long story, short: the border is more secure now than it has ever been.
And yet some members of Congress continue to insist that the border is unsafe. In fact, they intend to hold immigration reform hostage until we have “secured the border.”
With more than $17 billion spent each year on immigration and border enforcement, this is not only misguided, it’s also expensive.
U.S. public opinion on immigration
Since the border with Mexico is secure, it’s time to move beyond thinking of immigration reform as an enforcement strategy, the way we did in 2006 and 2007.
Public opinion in the U.S. has shifted along with the massive changes at the border. In 2006 and 2007 a majority of Americans thought that the top priority of immigration policy should be “halting [the] flow of immigrants” to the United States. Now beliefs have flipped. When asked the same question in mid-2012, 55 percent of Americans said they believed that the United States should first and foremost “deal with illegal immigrants already in the U.S.” Similarly, in national exit polling from Election Day, a full 65 percent of Americans argued that undocumented immigrants should be “offered a chance to apply for legal status.”
A new priority
Instead of posing a security-first model, the new thinking on immigration reform should instead embrace the potential gains from immigration reform. The social and economic benefits are considerable. For instance, passing comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship would add $1.5 trillion to cumulative U.S. gross domestic product over the next decade. And passing the DREAM Act, which offers a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants, would add $329 billion to the economy by 2030.
Starting immigration reform with anything but a pathway to citizenship would run counter to the facts on the ground, counter to public opinion, and counter to plain, old-fashioned common sense.
The border is secure. Now, it’s immigration reform that will secure a better future for the United States.
Source: The Center for American Progress, "Infographic: Setting the Record Straight on Immigration and Border Enforcement," Marshall Fitz and Philip E. Wolgin, January 4, 2013.