Safe Borders, Sane Policies: National Security Without Breaking the Bank

September 22, 2011

America’s border policies should focus on protecting against national security threats and on making sure that people entering the country do so through regular ports of entry, where they can be admitted after government inspection. Unfortunately, in recent years, the facts about our borders have been obscured by misleading political rhetoric. Despite the fact that our border with Mexico is more tightly guarded than ever in our history, some still insist that our borders are “out of control” and, year after year, the budget for border control becomes more bloated.

The Facts

  • The number of Border Patrol agents stationed on the southwest border—nearly 18,000—is nearly double the size of the force in 2004. The budget for the Border Patrol has more than doubled in that time. Supplementing the Border Patrol are thousands of agents from other federal agencies, plus National Guard troops.
  • The number of people trying to cross the border illegally is at its lowest point since the Nixon Administration, dropping 75% over the past decade.
  • While Mexican drug cartels have become more violent, the violence is taking place in Mexico, not the U.S. In fact, U.S. border cities, large and small, have maintained lower crime rates than other cities in their states and lower rates than the national average, according to a July 2011 analysis by USA Today of crime data reported by 1,600 local law enforcement agencies in four border states. El Paso, Texas, sits on the border, and it has been ranked the safest city of its size in America. Other border cities are also among the safest in the country.

The Problem: Border Security Spending Has Become a Fiscal Black Hole

The deliberate confusion caused by irresponsible politicians has allowed billions of dollars, year after year, to be pumped into border security programs that have lacked a focused vision. While politicians have favored border fences and patrols in the desert, they have neglected our ports-of-entry infrastructure. Consequently, smugglers now prefer to come through ports of entry, where they have a greater probability of success.

One objective of border enforcement—to make sure people enter through ports of entry and don’t go around them—cannot be achieved without immigration reform. The current immigration system has failed to provide enough flexibility to match immigrant flows to the demands of our labor market. Without a framework that allows immigrant workers to come here legally and meet our labor needs, many migrants will continue to seek ways to come here outside of legal channels, adding pressure on the border.

The Solution: Focused, Smart Enforcement Could Save Taxpayer Billions

All border enforcement measures should effectively address genuine risks to national security and public safety, while upholding the law, protecting individual rights, and facilitating legitimate commerce to strengthen America’s global economic standing.

  • Further increases in border enforcement (except at ports of entry) should be halted unless those increases can be justified. In the past six years, despite a decline in the number of persons attempting to cross the border illegally, the budget for the Border Patrol has increased an average of $300 million per year. Simply stopping the increases would save hundreds of millions of dollars. The best way to deter illegal immigration now is to make the necessary changes in immigration law so that people coming to work and reunite with family can do so through legal channels.
  • Funding for border security should be shifted to beef up ports of entry infrastructure and staffing. The focus of politicians on expanding the border patrol, extending the fence, and other spending between ports of entry has made the ports of entry our weak link in stopping illegal flows of weapons, cash and human trafficking.
  • All border programs must be examined to see if we are getting a good return on investment. Redundant, wasteful, and ineffective programs should be terminated and funding reallocated. For example, taxpayers have so far shelled out $2.4 billion for the fence and accompanying infrastructure, and by mid-2009, the fence had been breached more than 3,000 times, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Border enforcement only delivers so much security. We need a comprehensive approach. Fixing our immigration system is part and parcel of improved border security, reform of our immigration laws would allow enforcement resources to be more rationally focused on real threats to national security or public safety.