The debate over immigration and border enforcement becomes tiresome to me because so many false assumptions get wrapped into it. A border wall can't solve anything because the checkpoints, not the empty spaces in between, are where most cross-border smuggling occurs; a recent story from ABC News ("Fake Fed-Ex trucks; when the drugs absolutely have to get there," Jan. 18) gives a good example how that routinely happens:
Savvy criminals are using some of the country's most credible logos, including FedEx, Wal-Mart, DirecTV and the U.S. Border Patrol, to create fake trucks to smuggle drugs, money and illegal aliens across the border, according to a report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.This is old news, exposing a frequently used tactic rather than reporting on a new development. (Even more common would be bribing/threatening the driver of a legitimate commercial vehicle.) Less than 1% of northbound shipping traffic at the Mexican border is ever inspected (less headed south), and even that results in long lines daily at every border entry point. Most of these folks are legitimate travelers or transporting legal goods in a trade relationship that benefits both countries. According to George Friedman at Stratfor:
Termed "cloned" vehicles, the report also warns that terrorists could use the same fake trucks to gain access to secure areas with hidden weapons.
The report says criminals have been able to easily obtain the necessary vinyl logo markings and signs for $6,000 or less. Authorities say "cosmetically cloned commercial vehicles are not illegal."
In August 2006, the Texas Department of Public Safety, on a routine traffic stop, found 3,058 pounds of marijuana and 204 kilograms of cocaine in a "cloned" Wal-Mart semi-trailer, driven by a man wearing a Wal-Mart uniform.
In another case, a truck painted with DirecTV and other markings was pulled over in a routine traffic stop in Mississippi and discovered to be carrying 786 pounds of cocaine.
In 2006, the United States imported $198 billion in goods from Mexico and exported $134 billion to Mexico. This makes Mexico the third-largest trading partner of the United States and also makes it one of the more balanced major trade relationships the United States has. Loss of Mexican markets would hurt the U.S. economy substantially.That's an immense amount of legitimate trade crossing back and forth - most of it by highway through the main plazas or checkpoints - that effectively masks crafty smuggling operations, especially when high profit margins allow smugglers to effectively absorb any losses.
The fact is, too many legitimate Fed-Ex trucks need to cross the border, and WalMart trucks, and DirecTV trucks, and anything else you can think of, to search every last one of them. (And drug dogs don't work well in a crowded checkpoint environment.) We've established vast maquiladora industries that are directly dependent on that kind of "low-friction" border crossing, to use Friedman's phrase. Add to that, the amount of legitimate traffic is increasing thanks to the Pacific Rim sending more and more US-bound goods through Mexican ports.
It's hard to overstate the importance of the border economy to Texas, even for Texans who grow old and die having never visited there. Not just now but historically Texas' robust economic relationship with Mexico - mostly legal, but also illicit - contributes greatly to buoying the state from facing the full brunt of national economic downturns.
Two thirds of the US border with Mexico is in Texas. If "securing the border" results in a reduction or slowing of legitimate north-south trade, Texas' economy will endure a disproportionate share of the negative impact. I'm a lot more worried about that than I am the nationality of the guys building the condos next door.
Walls and patrols in the desert ignore the paths destined for most smuggling across the border, in both directions: To steal a line from James Carville, "It's the checkpoints, stupid." Success or failure at reducing both drug smuggling and illegal immigration depends mostly on how we handle the traffic flow at legal border crossings - much of the rest is public relations.