StatueLibertyAlthough Illegal immigration has slacked off some in the last few years, at least partially because of the weak economy, many are predicting a corresponding rise as the economy recovers. Since it seems to be such a hot button issue, most candidates in the 2012 political campaigns made border security a major concern.  Almost as much interest has been focused on the broader question of immigration reform: some sort of legalization process for illegal immigrants; a guest worker program; and, of course, strong border security. Unfortunately, many of the most vocal can’t seem to get past their obsession with the border security part.

For instance, Congressman Steve King, Representative for the Fourth District of Iowa, uses his webpage to advertise ideas that he says would help control illegal immigration, primarily from Mexico.  “I have watched illegal immigrants scale these fences and easily move between the United States and Mexico. To address this, I have designed a concrete border wall proposal. I have 35 years of experience in the earth-moving, drainage and concrete construction business, which gives me the background to design an effective wall. My concrete wall would function as both a human and vehicle barrier, inspired by the success of the concrete wall in Israel.”  Now,when we have serious proposals to improve our national immigration situation, many ( like Iowa Senator Charles Grassley), are insisting that border security should be a prerequisite to any improvement in our immigration policy.

Demands to have even more money thrown into the quest for an airtight border are totally unreasonable and must not be allowed to stand in the way of serious immigration reform.

In the first place, perfect border security is not possible. Or at least not cost-effective. We’ve been trying to zip up the southern border for as long as I can remember, and it’s not working. At this time we have just about 650 miles of wall (I believe most of it is eighteen feet tall). That’s only about one-third of the entire border. And it has so far cost  something in the neighborhood of 2.5 to 3 billion dollars, not counting any kind of maintenance. According to the border patrol, the fence slows people down, but it doesn’t stop them. Do a YouTube search to watch two girls climb the 18 foot fence in precisely 18 seconds. (They make it look amazingly easy)

Secondly, what constitutes adequate border security will always be a matter of opinion. The San Diego Union Tribune quoted David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego, as saying “No one has described what a secure border looks like. We have no baseline and we have no target. It’s a great example of a moving standard and for the last 20 years, that standard has been moving up with no targets in sight.”  President Bush’s 2007 immigration bill, also insisting on solid border security, cited the need for 300 miles of vehicle barriers, 370 miles of fencing, 105 radar and camera towers, and four drones. According to The Washington Post, by last year “we completed 651 miles of vehicle fencing—including 352 miles of pedestrian fencing and 299 vehicle barriers—300 towers, and nine drones, according to Customs and Border Patrol.” To conservative detractors, it’s still not nearly enough for this year.

Finally, those who resist immigration reform, including a “path to citizenship,” have a record of shifting ideas about what would satisfy them (multiple and unreachable goals).  Last summer, Michele Bachmann told Bill O’Reilly she wanted to fence the whole Mexican border because “Fifty percent of the population of Mexico has now gone north of the border. Fifty percent.” (Honest, she really did say 50% of the population of Mexico!)  At another point she signed a pledge to build a double fence along the entire length of the border. “I will secure that border and that will be job one.” This from the same woman who in 2007  wanted to declare English the “official language” of the United States.

Mitt Romney, who made a much more viable candidate in 2012, and who insisted he would veto the Dream Act, at one point said he wanted to complete the 1,969 mile fence along the Mexican border and force undocumented immigrants to “self deport” by cutting off the possibility of their employment. He also stated that he wanted to have “enough” officers for border security, but didn’t actually indicate what would be an “adequate” number. Not to sound jaded, but I’m thinking the number could be revised upward and upward as the months go by.

Immigration Reform must not be held hostage to demands for perfect border security. These are two related, but independent, problems. Both need to be dealt with, but neither should be held as a prerequisite to the other.  They need to be dealt with independently. That is probably asking too much, because politicians are in charge, and they will undoubtedly be finessing the situation to negotiate for unrelated demands, regional or national, that we likely couldn’t predict at this time.

Bill Morgan

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