In 1994, President Bill Clinton established a prevention through deterrence border security strategy for the Border Patrol that concentrated enforcement resources on major entry corridors.
This made it more difficult for migrants to make illegal entries at those locations. Consequently, many of them went around those areas to make their entries at remote locations that were not patrolled so heavily, such as the Arizona desert.
This resulted in a humanitarian crisis.
According to U.S. Border Patrol data, 7,216 people died while illegally crossing the southwest border at remote locations in the 20-year period from FY 1998 to FY 2017. Most of them perished in the desert from dehydration, hypothermia or heatstroke.
The actual number of deaths is much higher. According to CNN, the Border Patrol usually just counts dead bodies they discover while patrolling the border. In FY 2017, for instance, the Border Patrol reported 294 deaths, but CNN identified at least 102 more, not including scores of other likely crossing deaths in which officials were not able determine whether the remains were migrants.
Clinton’s plan was to make some of the resources available for other locations when the Border Patrol had control over the major corridors. The Border Patrol would then monitor the flow of illegal entries and shift resources to areas that had a lot of activity.
The instructions on implementing the strategy acknowledged, however, that although the Border Patrol knew where apprehensions were made, it did not have a reliable way to determine where aliens who eluded them were crossing. This made it difficult to know where to place additional resources.
Today, the Border Patrol monitors illegal crossings and other threats with tactics such as periodic reconnaissance patrols, sign-cutting and tracking, unmanned aircraft flights, and interaction with law enforcement agencies in local communities. This is referred to as “situational awareness.”
Situational awareness is difficult to achieve. The border is 1,933 miles long, and it crosses through arid deserts, rugged mountains, and winding rivers.
The instructions also acknowledged that migrants “crossing through remote, uninhabited expanses of land and sea along the border can find themselves in mortal danger.” The expectation was that they would avoid these areas.
It became apparent within a year or two, however, that the dangers were not deterring migrants from making crossings in the remote areas, but consideration was not given to changing the strategy. Instead, a border safety initiative was launched in 1998 in an effort to educate the public about the dangers.
Tens of thousands of illegal crossers shifted their entries to dangerous, unpopulated routes, and thousands of them have died.
Efforts are being made to identify the remains to be able to notify family members.
In Pima County, Arizona, officials have recovered 2,816 remains from the Arizona desert since 2000. The chief medical examiner said 113 remains have been found so far this year. Approximately 65 percent of the remains have been identified.
Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier observes that, “Open borders policies are not compassionate public policy. When we passively encourage illegal border crossing we are creating a human rights tragedy. These migrants are victimized repeatedly by bandits, human smuggling coyotes, and the harsh elements of this region.”
DHS currently has 19,437 Border Patrol agents, but it takes more than manpower and situational awareness tactics to secure the border. A more comprehensive approach is needed. The magnets that draw migrants here need to be addressed as well.
Many come because work is available here and they don’t have to worry about being deported once they’ve reached the interior of the country.
Congress tried to eliminate the job magnet by establishing employer sanctions with the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Employers can be fined for employing aliens knowing that they are not authorized to work in the United States.
But the government has had more than 30 years to make the sanctions work, and it hasn’t happened. It is unrealistic at this point to expect it ever to happen. A new approach is needed.
Unscrupulous employers are drawn to undocumented alien workers because they can be exploited easily and are not in a position to complain about the way they are treated.
The Department of Labor (DOL) sanctions employers for exploiting employees without regard to their immigration status, which avoids the difficulties involved in determining whether employees are aliens and if so whether they have valid work authorization.
With additional funding, DOL could mount a large-scale, nationwide campaign to stop the exploitation of employees in industries known to hire large numbers of undocumented aliens.
Interior enforcement is being stymied by an immigration court backlog crisis. Effective enforcement isn’t possible when there is a two year wait for a deportation hearing.
Unfortunately, the border can’t be secured without addressing all of these problems.
Nolan Rappaport was detailed to the House Judiciary Committee as an executive branch immigration law expert for three years. He subsequently served as an immigration counsel for the Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Claims for four years. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals for 20 years.