Border Security, Or Just Immigration Reform Obstructionism?
Opponents of immigration reform are using "border security" as a shield to hide their true desire to kill the very idea of immigration reform.
The editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, which has been among the strongest supporters of immigration reform on the right, takes on those in the Republican Party insisting that border security be established before any immigration reform is enacted:
The immigration debate has turned once again to “securing the border,” and Republicans are once again demanding more enforcement as the price of their support. Here’s the real story: For some Republicans, border security has become a ruse to kill reform. The border could be defended by the 10th Mountain Division and Claymore antipersonnel mines and it wouldn’t be secure enough.
As we noted last month (“Border Security Reality Check,” May 2), the U.S.-Mexico border is more secure today than it has been in decades. According to Border Patrol statistics, illegal entries are at a 40-year low. Apprehensions of illegal entrants exceeded 1.1 million in 2005, but in both 2011 and 2012 the number was below 365,000
According to a study by the Government Accountability Office, the number of illegal immigrants who escaped capture at the nine major crossing points from San Diego to El Paso fell an astonishing 86% between 2006 and 2011. All the talk-show shouting about America under siege from immigrants streaming across the Rio Grande is fiction.
Some of this decline is surely due to the lousy U.S. job market, but some results from the border security mobilization that began in the 1990s and really got going after 2006. Today more than 21,000 agents patrol the border. Enforcement spending is up more than 50% in a decade for everything from 650 miles of fencing to military aircraft, marine vessels, drones, surveillance equipment, infrared camera towers and detention centers.
The Gang of Eight bill now on the Senate floor would add another $4.5 billion or so for border control. That means still more agents, drones and fencing. The bill also puts in place vast new internal enforcement measures to apprehend the roughly 40% of illegal immigrants who do not cross the border illegally but overstay their visas.
Republicans, of course, have responded to this by demanding that any immigration reform bill address “border security” before any provisions regarding immigration reform are actually implemented. The alternative plan proposed by Senator Rand Paul in April includes a provision that would require Congress to certify that “border security,” whatever that means, is achieved before any of the immigration-related provisions go into effect. As I noted at the time, that plan was inherently unworkable. This morning, the attention of the Senate of the was focused on an amendment offered by Texas Senator John Cornyn that would require joint certification by the Department of Homeland Security and the Government Accountability Office that the situation along the southern border has met certain specified criteria. That amendment was defeated on a largely party line vote early this afternoon. However, this is likely only the first of many battles that the GOP will wage using the idea of “border security” as a way to attack immigration reform.
As the Journal notes, this follows a familiar pattern because it was the same canard that the right pulled in 2007 to kill immigration reform that was backed by President Bush and the party’s eventual 2008 Presidential nominee. In reality, though, it really doesn’t accomplish anything:
If reducing illegal immigration is the real objective, Republicans should try to improve this reform. Not by tightening border security, but by making it easier for immigrants to enter and work in the U.S. legally. The bill includes more green cards for high-skilled workers and new guest-worker programs for low-skilled and farm workers, but the visa quotas are inadequate. If Republicans really want to reduce the future flow of illegals, they would use their leverage to expand these guest-worker programs, rather than trying to militarize the border even further.
By far the most effective policy in reducing illegal immigration in the last 60 years was the Bracero guest-worker program of the 1950s and early ’60s. Illegal immigration was almost eliminated for a decade as crossings fell from one million to fewer than 50,000 a year once migrant workers had legal channels to enter. Yet many of those on the right who claim to favor legal immigration also oppose guest-worker programs and other visa expansions. This betrays that they really want no new immigration.
The value of all of this additional border spending is probably marginal, and at some point it becomes offensive to U.S. values of freedom and human dignity. We doubt many Americans would support anything like the police-state measures that would be required to reduce illegal immigration to near-zero as the restrictionist right wants as the price of reform.
The real game here is to kill a bill that would create a more pro-growth and humane immigration system for America and the millions already here or in line to come. If the right succeeds in blowing all this up, one wonders what comes next? Perhaps Republicans can campaign in 2014 on self-deporting the 11 million illegals who are here now. That worked so well for Mitt Romney.
As I’ve noted before, there’s something entirely phony about this entire discussion about “border security.” The very phrase itself is so amorphous that it’s hard to pin immigration opponents down on what it actually means. Are they referring to a world in which fewer people are getting across the border illegally? Well, as the Journal notes above, and in this piece from last month, that’s already the case. Illegal entries to the United States are at 40 year lows, and overall immigration from Mexico has hit 60 year lows. Indeed, last year, we learned that net immigration from Mexico to the U.S. may be below zero. Are they talking about increased enforcement of existing laws? Well, President Obama is on a pace to have more deportations under his watch than President Bush did in his eight years. By any rational, objective, measure, our borders are more secure today than they have been in quite some time and yet opponents of immigration reform are behaving as if there are thousands of people just walking across it on a daily basis with no effort by the Obama Administration to try to stop it. That kind of behavior leads one to think that these Senators care more about blocking immigration reform of any kind than they actually do about the “border security” that they keep talking about.
Of course that’s exactly what people like Cornyn, Ted Cruz, and others want to do. They want to kill the immigration reform bill pending in the Senate, or indeed the very idea of immigration reform itself. Their motivations, quite obviously, are patently political in that they are clearly pandering to a GOP base that feels the same way. Their moves are politically stupid, however, given the fact that poll after poll has shown strong public support for the basic provisions of the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” plan and the fact that the GOP’s position on immigration is the primary motivation behind the antipathy that Latino voters feel for the party. Indeed, a recent poll shows that Latino voters are strongly opposed to a “borders first” approach to immigration reform. And yet that’s exactly the road that the opponents of immigration reform suggest that the GOP follow regardless of what Latino voters, and Americans as a whole, may think about the topic. As the Journal notes, that’s a strategy that worked very well for Mitt Romney last year. Oh, wait.