What they’ll find is that the border couldn’t be more secure. A recent report published by the American Immigration Lawyers Association found that the border security benchmarks of the past immigration reform bills have been met or exceeded. These include improvements in border infrastructure and technology, detention facilities, and increased border personnel. In fact illegal crossings are down to their lowest levels in 40 years.
But, if the reason for the senators’ trip is to satisfy themselves that the border is secure enough for Congress to finally do something about fixing our country’s dysfunctional immigration system, I think I can save them the journey. Here’s what they’ll find:
In El Paso, Texas, standing on the U.S. side of the border looking south into Mexico, senators will see the squalid neighborhoods of Ciudad Juarez, until recently considered the most dangerous city in the world outside a declared war zone. Along the U.S.-Mexico border, behind the fence, they’ll see U.S. Border Patrol vehicles placed at strategic locations to ensure the apprehension of immigrants who do manage to make it past the motion detectors and other virtual barriers designed to keep them on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande.
The senators shouldn’t miss the opportunity to venture north from Texas into New Mexico. It’s well worth a trip up Interstate 25 along the meandering Rio Grande and past the small towns that dot the landscape on north to Albuquerque. The senators will pass through a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint just north of Las Crucas and south of Hatch where all vehicles are stopped and checked for undocumented passengers. The senators should spend some time in Arrey, just south of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. There they’ll get a firsthand look at the Border Patrol agents sitting in their vehicles eyeing the residents — including U.S. citizens — and checking the immigration status of anyone who doesn’t “look legal”.
And as long as they’re interested in border security the senators should include America’s northern frontier to their itinerary. There’s a lot to see up there; nationwide the number of Border Patrol agents along the northern border rose from about 340 agents before September 11, 2001, to more than 2,200 agents by 2011.
The Senators might want to start with a ride across northern Ohio on State Route 2 where frequent stops of travelers by U.S. Border Patrol agents over the past several years have led to claims of racial profiling and spawned litigation. At Port Clinton, Ohio they can tour the spanking new U.S. Border Patrol station which opened last year at a reported cost of $25 million. The purpose of the facility, according to U.S. immigration officials, is to stop unregulated cross-border traffic from Canada. As a resident of Northern Ohio I sleep a lot easier these days just knowing it’s there to stop all the illegal immigrants swimming across Lake Erie, especially in the dead of winter.
As they cross Ohio’s northern highways the senators are likely to see U.S. Border Patrol vehicles patrolling for undocumented immigrants. The Senators will find much of the same to the east on the New York Thruway where Customs and Border Protection officers often board commercial buses and demand passengers’ proof of immigration status.
Importantly, the senators should resist the politically charged temptation to tie an immigration overhaul – including a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America’s shadows—to unmeasurable indicators of border security. They would be well advised to heed the advice of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, herself a former Arizona governor who soundly rejected the idea that the government could treat a single metric of border security as a trigger that leads to comprehensive immigration reform. Speaking to reporters yesterday about border security and the need for Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform Napolitano’s response was clear, “I think now is the time…the system we have needs to be rebooted.”
Leopold is AILA's general counsel.