(Immigration reform died in 2007 because lawmakers wanted the border secured first. The U.S. spent $18 billion on border security last year. Image source: DHS.)
As Republican lawmakers demand even more militarization at the border, activists and policy analysts say the border is the safest it has been in history.
In January, the Migration Policy Institute released a 175-page report detailing the rise of border enforcement since 1970. The report says spending on border security is at an all time high while apprehensions at the border — commonly used as a benchmark for how many people successfully enter the country — are the lowest they have been since 1970.
Fernando Garcia is the executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, based in West Texas and Southern New Mexico on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Members of Congress and the American people should recognize that we have already done more than enough to secure the borders,” Garcia says.
In 2007 a measure to set a pathway to citizenship and create a guest worker program was defeated, according to Garcia, largely because opponents said the border needed to be secured first.
|Apprehensions at the border — a commonly used indicator of security — are at the lowest they have been since 1970.
“The people that opposed immigration reform in 2007 said first we needed more border enforcement, more fencing, and deployment of the National Guard,” Garcia says. “Essentially they got that. We have met or surpassed the benchmarks set in 2007. We have 651 miles of fencing, we have deployed the National Guard, and we are using drones.”
Border Patrol spokesman William Brooks says he cannot comment on whether the border is secure because it is a “subjective” question. In April, however, Department of Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano said:
“Over the past four years, this Administration has dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology, and resources to the Southwest border, and while challenges will always remain, every metric we use to measure border security shows significant progress and improved quality of life at the border.”
Last year, in fact, the U.S. spent $18 billion on border security. In the last seven years, the number of border patrol agents has doubled to 21,370. In 2011, a paltry 340,252 people were apprehended at the border, the lowest number since 1970, according to statistics from the Department of Homeland Security.
A bipartisan group of senators successfully pushed back Thursday against GOP threats to kill any immigration reform bill that did not include increased militarization of the border, but the fight has only begun (debate over the legislation started Thursday) and if history is any indication, the border boogie man is sure to rise again.
“When it comes to border security, we are doing more than enough,” Garcia says. “I think it’s used as a pretext to derail a pathway to citizenship.”
Win Vitkowsky is a journalist who lives and works in New York and New Haven.