Yesterday, President Obama gave his State of the Union Address, in it he briefly touched on immigration and the border, in doing so he touched an important point: as our immigration debate enters a new phase our understanding of the Southwest Border, what the region means for legal immigration and what it represents for our country as a whole, is changing. Taking these changes into consideration Congress must move beyond debates on security to a more elevated discussion on how best to reform our immigration laws.
The Presidents comments on immigration framed the conversation around the changing dynamic of the southwest border region. “I believe as strongly as ever that we should take on illegal immigration. That’s why my Administration has put more boots on the border than ever before. That’s why there are fewer illegal crossings than when I took office. The opponents of action are out of excuses. We should be working on comprehensive immigration reform right now.”
The administration has sent unparalleled resources to the Border and these resources are showing results. In his speech he noted that there are fewer undocumented immigrants entering the country through our southwest border, however this is only part of the story.
Nogales, Arizona Mayor Arturo Garino said of the speech: “The President has done a great job on the border. What he said last night is absolutely true. In fact Nogales is getting 40 new CBP personnel for the Ports of Entry, and we currently have 90 in training for the area, all of this will facilitate legal commerce and trade which will only help our local economy. The same facilitation of legal traffic from Mexico, anywhere from 60 – 80 thousand people daily not only boosts nogales economy but the states as whole. By the time the Mariposa port of entry is online, we will have enough personnel to fully staff it which will double commerce in manufacturing and produce for region.”
Mayor Garino’s comments contextualize the current discussion over the border region and immigration: legal trade and legal immigration are important to both the southwest border region and our country as a whole. Any reasonable look at the data from the past several years makes clear that the new joint Mexican-US strategy towards the common border region is working. Deportations of criminal immigrants, southbound seizures of bulk cash and illegal guns are way up. The number of illegal migrants crossing the border, the number of undocumented immigrants in the US, crime rates all along the US side of the border are all down.
At the border the Department of Homeland Security has increased: “the number of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol agents nationwide from approximately 10,000 in 2004 to more than 21,000 today with nearly 18,500 “boots on the ground” along the Southwest border. Additionally they have deployed a quarter of all U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operational personnel to the Southwest border region—the most ever—to dismantle criminal organizations along the border.”
This has produced results. A recent New York Time’s article says it all, undocumented migration in the United States is at all time lows. In fact according to the Princeton Mexican Migration institute, migration from Mexico is at net zero, which means that the number of migrants entering the country equals the number entering. Finally The Council on Foreign relations recently noted that if these trends continue the United States may find that overall undocumented migration from Latin America could also reach net zero This is the first time in nearly twenty years this has occurred.
Yet this is only half the story along the southwest border, as Mayor Garino pointed out legal commerce and legal migration has only increased over the last four years. The New Policy Institutes recent paper on trade between our two countries shows: Mexico has spent $163 billion on U.S. goods in 2010. Further more U.S. sales to Mexico are larger than all U.S. exports to the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) combined, as well as all combined sales to Great Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
All of this is important for our country as a whole. Twenty-two states count Mexico as their No. 1 or No. 2 export market: Mexico is the largest export market to the two largest economies in the country in Texas and California. Other states that count Mexico as their largest export market are Arizona, New Mexico, and New Hampshire. It is the second largest export market for states such as Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee.
One of the first steps in moving past our current impasse on immigration reform, is to accept that some of the problems facing our immigration system have very little to do with the border and everything to do with a lack of understanding of the positive things occurring there.