The largest factor driving undocumented immigration into the U.S. is not a weak, unprotected border. The American public needs to recognize this in order to move forward with a real, comprehensive solution to the immigration crisis. People leave their homes and families to embark on a potentially deadly journey, paid for with their life savings, out of necessity, not opportunity.
Fueled by remarks like the ones delivered today in Laredo, Texas during Donald Trump's hasty border visit, border security has become a dangerously misleading narrative that has drained our economy, led to degradation in the quality of life for our once-dynamic border communities, and caused grave human-rights violations.
Rather than viewing enforcement as part of a broader strategy, it has become the only strategy. Instead of focusing resources on mitigating the root causes of immigration, we have spent decades trying stop immigrants at the door. So while Trump presents himself as a gamechanger, he’s actually advocating for more of the same.
Paradoxically–especially for Republicans—the security-based approach has prevented circular movement, resulting in a demographic revolution that has changed the political landscape, among many other things. More families had to settle here permanently in non-traditional destinations once the circular flow of workers crossing back and forth between Mexico and the United States was broken. Billions of taxpayer dollars have gone to waste trying to stop the flow of undocumented immigrants, mainly through the southwest portion of the border, while the largest border in the world—the one we share with Canada—remains largely unprotected.
An incredibly well documented piece titled The Green Monster, which was published last year by Politico, revealed the U.S. spends more money each year on border and immigration enforcement than the combined budgets of the FBI, ATF, DEA, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals, and the entire NYPD. Altogether, the country has invested more than $100 billion in border and immigration control since 9/11.
Out of the 60,000 personnel employed by Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol is the area that has seen the most dramatic growth. Between 2001 and 2009, the number of agents posted nationally rose from about 9,800 to a little more than 20,000.
This unprecedented expansion came at a cost. The Border Patrol quickly became the least accountable, least transparent law enforcement agency in the country. Between 2005 and 2012, nearly one CBP officer was arrested every day for misconduct, according to the Politico article.
At least 29 people have died since 2010 as a result of encounters with CBP, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. “Ten of these individuals were confirmed U.S. citizens, and six, including three minors, were standing in Mexico when fatally shot,” the ACLU said. “At least nine people were allegedly throwing rocks when CBP personnel responded with lethal force."
More security means more immigrants detained in private prisons and more profits for industry giants like Corrections Corporations of America, Management and Training Corporation and the GEO group.
Efforts to secure the border can't be grounded in catchy rhetoric and the simplistic assumption that increasing security at "the line," as locals refer to the border, will keep the country safer. History has proven otherwise. Life in that region is complex and communities keep important ties to countries on both sides. Growing militarization won’t seal the border, it will only suffocate it.
There was more inflammatory rhetoric today, courtesy of Mr. Trump. He talked about building in the strict sense, appropriate for a real estate mogul, focusing his remarks on the infrastructure of a wall. He didn't mention the trends, the stats, the human cost, the outrageous spending. However, this time Trump didn't seem like such a maverick; he was only echoing the washed-up arguments of many of his GOP colleagues.