March 14, 2007 | WebMemo on Department of Homeland Security
America needs safe and secure borders and immigration polices that work. The Heritage Foundation has long advocated that the solution is a combination of sensible security, workplace enforcement, and legitimate opportunities to work in the United States. A visit to the border shows that these recommendations are more important than ever.
A five-day visit to Texas, meeting with state and local officials, and seeing conditions at the border first-hand puts the challenge of keeping America safe, secure, and prosperous in perspective.
The United States shares about 2,000 miles of border with Mexico, and about 1,200 of those belong to the Lone Star State. That has pluses and minuses for the state. Last year Texas made $150 billion from border trade, but crime in border communities has also mushroomed. Cartels are fighting over control of the smuggling corridor that runs through the state. The cartel war is brutal; there is nothing going on in Baghdad that hasn't been tried on the border--kidnapping, bombings, beheadings. Going after the gangs has to be a top priority. Dealing with illegal immigration is part of the mix. Serious criminals hide in the 500,000 individuals who illegally across the border each year. A significant drop in illegal crossings would allow law enforcement to focus resources on criminals victimizing people on both sides of the border.
In addition, two to three million people who crossed the border are living illegally in Texas. That's about 20 percent of the unlawfully present population in the United States, and the public benefits they receive (like education and emergency room care) are a crippling burden on local communities.
Federal, state, and local law enforcement have run a series of interdiction operations along the border and in the interior, using community policing and investigations to identify, target, and disrupt human and drug smuggling operations. What is most important about these efforts is that they show what needs to be done to really ramp up border security and what can be achieved. Operation Rio Grande, launched February 2006, for example, reduced all crime by an average of 60 percent in sheriff-patrolled areas of border counties.
While there has been much emphasis on building walls and having
guards to patrol the border, that alone is not the answer. A
"static" defense cannot keep up with a "dynamic" enemy that is
always thinking of new ways to cross the border. Active
interdiction and investigative operations that target smugglers and
smuggling routes show a lot more promise. The U.S. needs to take
these to the next level with operations that provide a persistent
law enforcement presence up and down the border, not just in Texas.
The Heritage Foundation proposes that this can be done if Congress
and the Administration:
America's borders are broken, but a trip to the border offers plenty of evidence that sensible policies can meet the challenge of fixing them. Congress should put the issue of implementing a sensible strategy front and center in its consideration on comprehensive immigration and border security reform.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Assistant Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies and Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Dr. Carafano visited the border earlier this month.