Immigration Reform 2013: Does the U.S. Actually Have a Border Security Problem?

Current dialogue around border security assumes there is a problem to be solved. It is true that America has 11 million illegal immigrants (or is it illegal aliens?), there is drug related violence along American border cities and neighborhoods, and drugs and people are being trafficked into the country across our border with Mexico. However, there is no significant evidence associating increased violence with proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, crime rates in border states has been consistently falling in recent years, and in the past three years, border patrols have seized "74% more money, 41% more drugs, and 159% more weapons." So do we have a border security problem? Currently, advocates in favor of increased border controls have failed to demonstrate current security is insufficient.

Is there a problem because there is border violence at all, because drugs are still finding their way across our border, because people are still managing to stay in this country illegally? Or should we be satisfied with the progress that has been made, with having reduced any impact of the border to no statistical significance? Neither alternative is unreasonable, but both need clarification. Border security, as currently discussed, is rather amorphous.

The United States has proven very capable in handling border security. "The net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed," according to a Pew study. On top of that, the grave concern over border violence seems largely unfounded considering how low border city crime rates are in comparison to the rest of their states. Furthermore, the rise of Mexican drug cartels has been attributed to the successful frustration and destruction of Colombian drug cartels, along with the Coast Guard’s success in preventing cross-Gulf smuggling.

And yet our borders remain permeable to illegal immigration, resulting in 11 million illegal immigrants. Violence crosses our border in the form of kidnapping, and the Mexican side of the border remains dangerous. Lastly, drugs are still making their way across our border, and an increase in seizures could be due to an increase in narcotics traffic. Calls for increasing the man power, fencing, and other security procedures have been heard over and over again. In fact, according to a Fox News poll, "84% of voters favor stricter border security."

However, there needs to be a point to increasing border security. Those advocating for more fences, more people, and more technology on the border must present a goal which they are trying to achieve. As is, between the decreasing number of immigrants, low border violence, and increased drug seizures, it remains unclear whether we need more border security. It remains difficult to discern what level of crime rate, drug seizures, or illegal immigration will satisfy those calling for more security. The problem lies not in whether there should be more security, but whether there is an obtainable goal in increasing it. Instead of asking whether we have a border security problem, we should ask what exactly is that problem, and how can we fix it?

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Michael Hogan

I am currently a senior at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, pursuing a degree in International Politics with a concentration in International Security and a certificate in International Business Diplomacy. I am from Connecticut, and have spent time abroad in both Germany and China.

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