Sound Immigration Policy vs. Border Insecurity

by Rebecca Ellis

While 102,965 young immigrants were assured in 2012 that they can stay in the United States under a new administrative program granting permanent residency to immigrants who came as children,  served in the armed forces, or graduated with at least a GED, four times that number were deported last year, according to a recent article in The Huffington Post.

The contentious issue of the U.S.-Mexican border, fueled by political maneuvering, distracts from an honest examination of threats to national security. In essence, the greater threat to national security may be along the U.S. Canadian border.  Most people linked with terrorist activities have entered the U.S. with visas by plane, but those on no-fly lists have been found crossing the U.S.-Canadian border. While Mexico and the U.S. share no-fly information, Canada and the U.S. do not, according to Bersin.

7,500 people on terrorism watch lists were caught crossing the Canadian border last year, according to an article in The Globe and Mail. U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin told CNS News in 2011 that “In terms of the terrorist threat, it’s commonly accepted that the more significant threat.” His statement was confirmed by a December 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which also stated that only 32 of the 4,000 miles of the U.S.-Canada border “had reached an acceptable level of control.”

While the U.S.-Canadian border may not be tight enough, if anything, the U.S.-Mexican border is hermetically sealed, especially when it comes to people, particularly Mexicans and Central Americans. The southern border might be considered worse than the East-West crossing at the Berlin Wall. While Republicans are calling for a two-step immigration reform, with tightening of the U.S.-Mexican border as first priority, financing for overall immigration enforcement under the Obama Administration has reached an all-time high, to the tune of $18 billion spent and a record number of people deported (409,849) last year.

This is not to refute the notion that there is terrorism along the U.S.-Mexican border. There certainly is, but motivated by a different — or better yet, lack of —  ideology, and it is affecting thousands of Mexicans every day and has cost the lives of 30,000 or more: the drug trade. Fed by guns that the cartels easily purchase in the U.S. and smuggle back to Mexico, “narco-trafficking” is flourishing. However, it is the inhabitants of primarily the Mexican border towns, rather than U.S. residents, who are receiving the brunt of the cartel violence.

In light of the escalating drug cartel violence, which is now spilling over into the U.S., President Barack Obama would do better to reconsider mass deportation in favor of an honest examination of what border security truly means for both the U.S. and Mexico. As it is now, America´s loose gun laws are not only killing people at home, but are allowing guns to flow over the border into Mexico, where non-deputized individuals are not even permitted to have them.

“Federal agents say about 90 percent of the 12,000 pistols and rifles the Mexican authorities recovered from drug dealers last year and asked to be traced came from dealers in the United States, most of them in Texas and Arizona.”

And that was an article in the New York Times from 2009. It is difficult to tell what the extent of it would be now. In any case, the cross-border gun traffic, associated with dangerous drug cartel gangs, poses a far greater threat against Mexico´s national security than it does to the United States.

Michael Braun, retired chief of operations of the DEA, told The Arizona Daily Star that the Mexican drug cartels might have ties to Hezbollah in the cocaine trade. However, the statistical evidence shows that the notion of a jihadist onslaught from the southern border is far-fetched. In fact, the U.S. State Department reported in its 2009 “Country Reports on Terrorism” that “no known international terrorist organizations had an operational presence in Mexico and no terrorist incidents targeting U.S. interests and personnel occurred on or originated from Mexican territory.” In 2010, none of the 36 people convicted by the U.S. Justice Department of charges relating to international terrorism crossed the U.S. Mexican border into the United States.

Although 450,000 people were caught trying to cross the border illegally from Mexico to the U.S. last year, the number is indicative of different problem than national security threats. The overwhelming majority are coming to work, not to plant bombs.  As the Mexican government has failed to provide its own citizens with enough jobs, preferring instead to export its poverty to the U.S., people will migrate wherever they need to go to feed their families.

An impossible immigration policy for Mexicans and Central Americans makes it difficult to enter the U.S. legally.  Even the more affluent Mexicans, who want to just come to the U.S. as tourists, must prove that 1) they can book a roundtrip ticket to the U.S., 2) they do not already have family in the U.S., and 3) have at least $15,000 in their bank account, before even applying for their visas. The vast majority of Mexicans and Central Americans entering the U.S. who may have been earning less than $300 per month back home are forced by this kind of immigration policy to cross the U.S.-Mexican border illegally, leaving their families behind to find work.


Photo from January 7, 2013 posting in New York Times: John Moore/Getty Images

To bring an end to the existing violence on the U.S.-Mexican border, and to truly strengthen national security in both countries, it is necessary to implement a far-reaching immigration reform, and to treat immigration and national security as the separate issues that they are. Rather than baiting fears of a changing ethnic landscape, bilingual schools, and the like, if President Obama wants to continue steering the course to a post-racial and diverse America, the present Administration needs to recognize that the immigration issue is affected by a convoluted array of factors, implicating both the Mexican and U.S. governments in their failure to handle the issue in terms of a social problem: the fallout of poverty and an economy that does not deliver.

To end the cycle of poverty-driven immigration, it is imperative to implement a comprehensive migration reform that encourages immigrants to improve their lives by furthering their careers and pursuing an education, rather than conflate reforming immigration law  with further tightening the U.S.-Mexican border.  Instead, actual threats to national security must  be examined based on the facts rather than perceived through the customary filter of politicking and xenophobia.


~ by rebejellis on January 22, 2013.

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