As immigration reform comes back into the national political debate, there has been a lot of talk about border security. Unfortunately, most of it is coming from people and places that are far away from the border. Politicians from both major parties insist that “more border enforcement first” is the key to moving forward on immigration reform. Barack Obama has joined Republicans in calling for more. Rising Democratic star and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro hold the House Judiciary Committee this month that “Americans can all agree on border security.”
These calls for “more border enforcement first” are sounding increasingly clueless. The facts stack up to reveal that the border is more secure, and in fact highly militarized, than ever before. The Obama Administration has increased spending on immigration and border enforcement to record highs and spent $18 billion in 2012 alone. In his first term, Obama deported more people than any president since Dwight Eisenhower, reaching almost 2 million deportations.
The idea of linking border enforcement to reforming the immigration system is a relic of the failed immigration reform negotiations of 2007. And a lot has been done in that time.
Business Week summed it nicely up last week:
“In negotiating the failed 2007 deal, Republican lawmakers demanded that President Bush deploy four drones to scan the border, build 105 radar and camera towers, raise the number of Border Patrol agents to 20,000, and erect 670 miles of fencing. Today, the U.S. has 10 border drones, 300 towers, and 21,394 agents —18,500 of them stationed on the U.S.-Mexico border. Fencing now covers 651 miles of the border, twice the length in 2009.”
In the rush to ramp up enforcement, border communities in the U.S. are now suffering from the effects of “too much, too fast.”
In the effort to achieve security, the border is not lacking in manpower, funding or resources. Instead what the border needs is an infusion of accountability, checks and balances and oversight.
For example, my organization recommends that an independent task force made up of people who live and work on the border be established to make border agencies, their strategies and their operations accountable. This task force should include community groups, business leaders, local law enforcement and elected officials, as well as faith leaders and workers.
We are also asking that Border Patrol agents undergo training in the U.S. Constitution and the application of human and civil rights. Just as they are periodically re-certified in the use of weapons, they would be re-certified in the upholding of the U.S. Constitution in their line of duty at the border.
The sorry state of the ports of entry represents one of the biggest disconnections between those living on the border and those talking about the border in D.C. Despite massive hiring and spending on protecting the border, the POE’s are painfully understaffed and underfunded. This chokes the economy on the border and impacts the lives and decisions of business owners, workers and consumers.
More than 200 people from the border, including local elected officials, faith leaders and community members, are traveling to Washington, D.C. this week to tell congressional lawmakers that the American tradition of checks and balances must also apply to the U.S. government’s largest law enforcement operation.
Fernando Garcia is the Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights, which is traveling to D.C. this week with delegations of leaders and residents from the northern and southern borders to set the border security story straight for lawmakers. For more information, click here.