Media Matters

Cracks in the Crack-Down

Is it a waste of time, money, and resources to increase security on America's southwestern border?

By 5.19.06

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It's no use. Give it up. No matter how much the federal government tries to install security on America's (southwestern) border, it's a waste of time, money, and resources.

At least that's what The Washington Post would have us believe after its report from Yuma, Arizona yesterday. Reporter John Pomfret based his story largely upon the experiences of harried Border Patrol agent Chris Van Wagenen, who chases elusive would-be illegals that defiantly taunt from the Mexico side, "I'll be back."

Van Wagenen's response? "Of that, I'm sure. If it's a fence, a sensor, a camera, they'll find a way to defeat it."

The Post paints a hopeless picture, saying "the signs of the unintended consequences of a decade's worth of efforts to crack down on illegal crossings of the 2,000-mile border are clear." The evidence of the failures:

- "Apprehensions of illegal immigrants are about the same as a decade ago."

- "Mexicans and others continue to pour into the United States though it is now far more expensive and far more dangerous for them than ever."

- "Once here, they are staying, turning border communities such as Yuma into boomtowns fueled by their cheap labor."

The New York Times also noted yesterday how fruitless the anti-immigration efforts have been:

It is a humbling acknowledgment that despite more than a decade of initiatives with macho-sounding names, like Operation Hold the Line in El Paso or Operation Gate Keeper in San Diego, the federal government has repeatedly failed on its own to gain control of the land borders.

According to the Post, this futile "crack-down" began with the Clinton administration in 1993, when the Border Patrol focused on blockades at those popular urban crossings. In conjunction with Operation Gatekeeper, formidable fencing was built from the Pacific Ocean for a 14-mile stretch along the Mexican border, where alien apprehensions were 100,000 a year. Now that estimated number is 5,000 annually.

But don't bother the Post with direct results -- they've got the macro-picture in mind, as "Gatekeeper and the other efforts (you know, the 14-mile long 'crack-down?') did nothing to stem the tide of illegal entries to the United States." That's because the overall annual numbers of border captures, as well as estimates of illegals who got through, remained unchanged between 1993 and 2005. Unbelievable given that the number of Border Patrol agents tripled to more than 11,000 during that time, right?

But there's an explanation. Those aliens who once passed over near metro areas have transferred their efforts into desert areas in the four border states. The Clinton-instigated "crack-down" has had unintended consequences, with aliens now attempting crossovers through the vast deserts, or paying steeply ($1,500 on average) for smugglers to sneak them into the U.S.

This appears not to be a good thing in the sight of the Post, as more than 2,500 have died trying to enter through the desert during the last 10 years. And in the desolate area near Yuma last year, Border Patrol agents captured almost 139,000 illegals, with the trend running even higher this year.

"We have people crossing the desert dying like flies," said Robin Hoover, president of Humane Borders, a charity that places water stations in the desert for "wayward" immigrants. "They are forcing people down death trails."

You'd think the Latinos were trying to escape Iraq or Darfur. Because a sovereign nation (ours) shuts down our porous boundary from the threat posed by illegal outsiders, forcing the invaders into a less desirable entry point, we're suddenly marching them down the Trail of Tears?

While the desert and the expensive smugglers ("coyotes") are unappealing to the prospective immigrants, they ought to be considered friends to the cause of American immigration and security policy, because they are deterrents. Everybody I know is sensible enough to realize that if you try to walk many miles through the desert without proper resources, you will die. That's a good incentive for staying put, a thought that probably didn't occur to Ms. Hoover or the Post.

If you think about it, the desert and the costly coyotes are no more off-putting than Border Agents with rifles. Should we disarm them too?

But a good barrier still works better than the dehydrating desert, as the current evidence shows. Hence we have the Senate's approval of an additional 370 miles of border fencing, along with President Bush's plan to send 6,000 National Guard troops to help the beleaguered Border Patrol. We locked the San Diego door, and are now working on latching the desert windows. We'll probably need a first-rate alarm system before it's all over.

If the feeble efforts of the last 15 years represented a "crack-down," what would it be if most Americans got the homeland security that they really want?

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About the Author

Paul Chesser publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, a news aggregator for North Carolina, and is a contributor of articles, research and investigative reports for both national and state-level free-market think tanks.