Why we need a secure border

Even with an Iranian drone strike killing U.S. soldiers in Jordan, expect immigration and border talk to dominate much of the week. Today, a quick walk-through of why controlling the border represents such a vital and basic duty of the American government, and why the Biden administration’s past insistence that the border was secure was such self-evident nonsense. And then some cautionary notes about the current proposal on the table before Congress.

The Immigration Game

Let us first dispense with the absurd accusation that the United States of America is a xenophobic country or that it does not welcome immigrants. Every year since the millennium, between 703,000 and 1.2 million immigrants have been granted legal permanent residence, a process also known as getting a green card. Green-card holders are permitted to live and work in the country indefinitely, to join the armed forces, and to apply for U.S. citizenship after five years — three years, if married to a U.S. citizen.

No other country comes close to welcoming this many legal immigrants per year. The U.S. now has roughly 50 million immigrants, or foreign-born residents. The next-highest is Germany at about 15 million. In other words, we have welcomed 35 million more people from other countries than any other country on Earth. (Keep this in mind the next time you hear the accusation that U.S. does not accept enough refugees.)

Each year, surveys indicate that the U.S. tops the list of the most-desired immigration destinations, and in 2021, a Gallup survey estimated that 18 percent of potential migrants — around 160 million adults — named the U.S. as their desired future residence. For perspective, the entire current U.S population is about 335 million people.

There are good people who want to come into this country. There are bad people who want to come into this country. The government must be able to determine the good ones from the bad ones. If you have an insecure border where anyone can walk in, eventually, bad people will get in, and you will have problems — and eventually someone who comes in will want to infringe upon your liberties.

Many of the people who want to enter the country may well be wonderful human beings. Future valedictorians. Good Samaritans. Hard workers. But we must, at minimum, sort out those who have an existing criminal record or present some sort of threat to public safety and bar them from entry.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, since the beginning of the 2021 fiscal year (October 1, 2020), CBP has arrested 31,542 individuals who have been convicted of one or more crimes, whether in the United States or abroad, before their run-in with CBP. Out of that total, 3,834 had convictions for assault, battery, or domestic violence; 2,755 had convictions for burglary, robbery, larceny, theft, or fraud; 6,424 had convictions from driving under the influence; 1,191 were convicted of “sexual offenses” including rape; and 161 were convicted of homicide or manslaughter.

Of course, CBP can only measure the criminal histories of those it catches; since the beginning of the Biden administration, CBP sources have confirmed more than 1.7 million known “gotaways” at the southwest border — cases where a person illegally entering the country was spotted but not apprehended. In public testimony in March 2023, chief of the U.S. Border Patrol Raul Ortiz conceded that the actual number could be 10 to 20 percent higher than the official figures.

We are not only under no obligation to let these people into our country, it is the responsibility of the federal government to keep these people out. If you stop them from entering the country, you reduce the chances they will commit a violent crime on American soil with an American victim. Protecting American lives and liberties is the core duty of the federal government.

At U.S. land-border ports of entry, since October 1, 2020, 1,195 individuals stopped and detained by CBP were in the terrorist-screening data set, colloquially known as the terrorism watch list. Between ports of entry, since October 1, 2020, 336 individuals stopped and detained by CBP were on the terrorist watch list. If you want to argue that people on the terrorism watch list make up an exceptionally small percentage of those caught at the southern border, that is indeed correct. But then again, it only took 19 guys with boxcutters to inflict a hell of a lot of harm on Americans. If we can’t get that number to be zero, we would like that number to be as close to zero as possible.

You don’t need to build the equivalent of the Great Wall of China from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. That isn’t a feasible, cost-effective, or timely option. But you can expand existing fencing at relatively modest cost to make border-security enforcement much more effective.

Back in June of 2017, Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council — the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol — testified before Congress, and I wish everyone in America would watch and read his testimony. His arguments are well-informed from personal experience, succinct, and clear . . . and his notion of the best practical solution probably would not completely satisfy everyone. Among his comments:

I want to emphasize first off, I will not advocate for 2,000 miles’ worth of border [wall]. That is just not necessary. But what I will advocate for is a border wall in strategic locations, which helps us secure the border. . . .

As an agent who worked in two of the busiest sectors in the history of the Border Patrol, I can personally tell you how effective border barriers are. When I got to the Tucson sector, we had next to nothing by way of infrastructure, and I can confidently say that for every illegal border crosser that I apprehended, three got away. The building of barriers and large fences, a bipartisan effort, allowed agents in part to dictate where illegal crossings took place and doubled how effective I was able to be in apprehending illegal border crossers.

As an agent who has extensive experience working with and without border barriers and as the person elected to represent rank-and-file Border Patrol agents, I can personally attest to how effective a wall, in strategic locations, will be. . . .

With a barrier, it’s estimated that all we need is one agent per three, four linear miles. Without a barrier, I need one agent per linear mile. So, the cost effectiveness of a barrier in manpower is — it’s extremely successful. . . .

In addition to the 353 miles of primary fencing that we already have, we believe that we need an additional 300 miles of primary fencing. This fencing should be strategically placed in areas such as Del Rio and Laredo Texas and the Tohono O’odham Indian Reservation in Arizona.

Back in 2017, the United States Government Accountability Office and the CBP estimated that average cost per mile for primary pedestrian fencing was $6.5 million, and $1.8 million per mile for vehicular fencing. In today’s dollars, that comes out to $8.21 and $2.27 million per mile.

For $2.4 billion, you could complete 300 additional miles of the primary fencing that Judd says the country needs and that would make CBP’s job much easier.

For perspective, the federal government spent $3.3 billion on office furniture during the pandemic. In the last three years, the U.S. government provided $3 billion in subsidies to one company to provide internet service to low-income households. This December, Nancy Pelosi boasted that she had secured $3.07 billion in federal funding to support construction of “a two-track electrified high-speed passenger rail line connecting the cities of Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield.”

It’s not that we don’t have the money to build additional border fencing; it’s that Congress and the federal government choose to spend that money on other things they deem more important.

Judd testified that significant amounts of non-wall funding were also needed:

Every day we deploy Agents with equipment that is inadequate. Let me give you two simple examples. Forty percent of our vehicles are past their service life. Patrolling off road for 10 hours a shift takes a toll and some of these vehicles are literally falling apart. The cost of replacing older vehicles would be $250 million. In many areas of the border, the agents have no communications. Forget interoperability, we do not even have operability, and this is a real threat to agent safety. We estimate that we could dramatically increase border interoperability for $125 million.

Judd’s proposal for additional vehicle and equipment funding comes out to $375 million in 2017 dollars, which would cost $473 million today. For perspective, back in 2016, the U.S. government gave San Diego a bit more than $1 billion to extend its trolley line.

By the way, lest you think that the National Border Patrol Council is some deeply pro-Trump partisan outfit, this union endorsed Democrats Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota in the 2018 cycle, greatly irking the Trump administration.

What we’re hearing about the immigration and border-security proposal emerging from the Senate so far suggests the legislation is flawed, to say the least. But if House Republicans reject that proposal, believing that they will have the opportunity to pass a better one a year from now under the newly reelected President Trump, they should be clear-eyed about the risks:

There is no guarantee that Donald Trump or any other Republican will win the 2024 presidential election.

It is extremely likely that Senate Democrats will have at least 40 votes, and thus have the filibuster, in the next Senate. Senate Democrats willing to work with the Trump administration on immigration legislation will be few and far between, or nonexistent — particularly if House Republicans torpedo this deal.

There is no guarantee that Republicans will have a majority in the House of Representatives after the 2024 election. Republicans currently have 219 seats.

Also, if you have (accurately) spent the past two-and-a-half to three years arguing that the situation at the border is a national emergency, you cannot credibly argue that the situation can wait with no further action for another year.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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