According to a Wall Street Journal story ("Shift is afoot at the Mexican border," Oct. 25, A8), "A security crackdown on the Mexican border is believed to have reduced the number of people trying to cross illegally into the U.S. while increasing business for professional smugglers with ties to the drug trade." Reports WSJ:
With politicians deadlocked over how to deal with illegal immigration, trying to seal the border to catch and deter illegal immigrants has become the main policy tool.Meanwhile, the reduction in illegal immigration doesn't necessarily stem from fewer immigrants coming to America, but fewer who routinely make the journey back and forth:
But the crackdown also appears to be affecting the markets for smuggling people and drugs in Mexico. As tighter security makes crossing the border trickier and more hazardous, the traditional mom-and-pop operations in Mexico that used to ferry people across have been replaced by larger, more-professional criminal gangs, often with ties to the illegal-drug trade.
U.S. officials are reporting increased violence along the border, including gunfights between rival smuggling gangs, gangs hijacking each others' customers en route to U.S. destinations and the rape or assault of migrants.
Special Agent Alonzo Peña, chief investigator for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona, says as the border gets harder to cross, fees to smugglers have increased from next to nothing to as much as $6,000 a head, making the smuggling business an attractive new market for drug gangs.
"It's one of the unintended consequences of sealing the border," Mr. Peña says.
Border Patrol agents have noticed that smaller-scale smugglers on the Mexican side are being replaced by more-sophisticated ones who appear to have ties to Mexico's cocaine cartels. Smugglers are carrying higher-caliber weapons and sometimes dress in camouflage uniforms and use military tactics to evade capture.
The higher risk of getting caught and higher cost of crossing has prompted many illegal workers in the U.S. to stay put rather than return home every year to do things like celebrate Christmas with their families. For those who still want to cross, the higher risk means putting their lives in the hands of more-organized criminal groups with the means to get them through.
So here we see the unintended but entirely predictable consequences of the "Secure the border first" strategy. It hasn't stopped illegal immigration - the big news is that the total number of estimated crossings is less than one million for the first time in several years, but that's still a lot of folks. Plus, much of the reduction in border crossings has been in back and forth traffic, not new arrivals, said the Journal. However, the policy's immeasurable social cost has been to enrich and empower Mexican organized crime, which has a firmer grip now on black market smuggling of humans AND drugs at the border than at any time in history, all thanks to the US crackdown.
The border crackdown, like many state and federal policies, seems designed to make drug cartels wealthier and more powerful instead of limiting their power.
To his credit, President Bush has belatedly proposed to spend $1.4 billion over three years on a "Plan Mexico" to combat cartels, but as has often been the case during his presidency, he suffers from receiving extraordinarily poor advice. Plan Mexico from most accounts appears to be modeled after failed US drug strategies in South America and Afghanistan operated by corporate mercenaries. (I'll see if I can get more concrete details about how the money would be spent in the coming weeks.) If so, there are a lot more productive ways we could spend that money in Mexico to enhance security.
It's a completely false claim that it's possible to "secure the border first." The only workable solution is to fix US immigration laws first, to allow more Mexican workers to come and go. That would leave drug smugglers isolated and let border enforcement focus on the more dangerous adversary: the cancerous spread of powerful organized crime.
While it can be amusing to watch a child squeeze a long balloon and express shock when it bulges on the sides, it's frustrating bordering on infuriating to watch the US government play out that scenario as our national security policy on the southern border. When it comes to border security, the President should stop listening to the cops so much, and start listening to the economists. We've seen this movie before.