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Securing the border

Border security is
the most contentious
part of immigration
reform. The passage
of several immigration
laws in Arizona and
across the country
were in direct response
to a perception
of a porous border, lax
federal enforcement
and business and workers abusing the system.
By making laws as draconian as possible
— through walls, punishing employers,
and expensive detention and deportation
policies — unauthorized immigrants will
avoid the state or “self-deport.”

Thirty-five other state legislatures tried
to follow Arizona’s lead and introduced
enforcement only bills in 2011 and 2012.
An astounding 84% of them failed to pass
into law. State legislatures realized the
economic and social damage these laws inflicted on Arizona and consciously decided
that wasn’t a path they needed to follow.

National efforts to promote the facts on
immigration’s costs and benefits have been
increasingly successful in stopping similar
Arizona-style laws in many states. However,
it has done little to stem the obsession with
border security.

This begs three very important questions.
First, why do people come here
illegally in the fi rst place? Second, will more
enforcement alone secure the border and
how will we know when the border is actually
secure? Third, are there other reforms
that could contribute to a secure border?

Some immigrants come here illegally
because there is no legal way for them to legally
enter. There is no green card category
for workers with a high school degree or
lower who have no family in the U.S. Family
wait time for immigrants from the Philippines
and Mexico can exceed 20 years. For many
people there simply is no line to get in.

Analyses from the Cato Institute, Princeton’s
Mexican Migration Project, and
others show nearly 85% of those who come
here to work do so to make better lives for
their families — just as our ancestors did.
But the economy has a strong impact on
when they choose to come, with crossing
declining every year since 2005. Thanks to
increased enforcement and the recession,
border crossings are at their lowest point in
40 years.

In recent years, federal enforcement of
immigration laws has increased dramatically.
The introduction of federal programs such as
E-Verify, the Criminal Alien Program (CAP),
the National Fugitive Operations Program
(NFOP), the 287(g) program, Secure Communities
Program, and others have resulted
in record-breaking arrests, prosecutions, and
deportations – about 400,000 last year.

The costs of this strategy are staggering.
The 2012 budget for the country’s two
border enforcement agencies exceeds $17.9
billion, a 15-fold increase over their budgets
in 1986 and 24% higher than the combined
FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA), and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms
(AFT) budgets. The Corps of Engineers
estimates the costs to construct and maintain
a southern border fence for its 25-year
lifespan is $47 billion.

Setting border enforcement priorities
means defi ning success and setting goals.
“Knowing it when we see it” is not a component
of good public policy. “Operational
control” of the borders means that any
unauthorized entrant will be stopped by
border agents within fi ve miles, and is generally
accepted by experts as a reasonable
defi nition of border security. The Yuma,
San Diego and El Centro sectors have successfully
achieved this level of control. Although
problems exist and better oversight
is necessary, their methods could be used
as a model for enforcement along all land
borders of the U.S. and in tribal areas.

But enforcement-only methods do nothing
to stem the demand for labor on our
side of the border. Even in a time of high
employment, immigrants fi ll important
niches in the labor market in construction,
agriculture, manufacturing, and other
sectors. In lieu of a legal process, some
immigrants and businessmen will break
the law to get the job and employees they
want — it’s basic supply and demand.

Creating a legal pathway for non-violent
and healthy immigrants to enter and work
in the U.S. — both permanently and temporarily
— will draw away the vast majority
of illegal crossers into the legal economy.

Adjusting quotas to meet market
demand, streamlining the hiring process
for employers and the immigrant workers
will accomplish several important things.
Under such a system, immigrants will
legally enter the country through ports of
entry, with documentation, pay all taxes,
obtain drivers licenses and insurance. With
fewer desert crossers, the Border Patrol
can concentrate resources on real threats
such a drug smugglers and other criminals.
Breaking the human smuggling business
on the Mexico border by giving migrants a
legal, safe and cheap way to enter the U.S.
will make both sides of the border safer
and deprive the cartels of millions of dollars
in resources.

Security isn’t just about fences and
agents, it’s also about managing demand.
Strong enforcement coupled with an easy
to navigate and more accessible immigration
system will meet our economic and
security needs.

Todd Landfried is the Executive Director of
Arizona Employers for Immigration Reform
and Member of The Real Arizona Coalition
Leadership Council.