“Border Security” and Economic Migration

File:USA - Customs and Border Protection - Border Patrol Patch 1

I liked this point from Erica Greider:

The phrase “border security” is sometimes used to mean “keeping economic migrants from crossing into the United States.” I understand it to mean “keeping drug smugglers and human traffickers from crossing the border with their cargo,” because the economic migrants, as a group, are not particularly criminal. Given that, they should be understood as separate though related issues. And one of the points of relation is that immigration reform, or the lack thereof, is hindering efforts at enhancing border security because resources that are meant for security are being used to crack down on undocumented workers, who are not really a security threat.

Texas, for example, has a $110m programme called Border Star that was ostensibly to help law enforcement track drug criminals. The American Civil Liberties Union analysed 11 of the departments getting the funds and found that ten of them detained 656 deportable aliens, and arrested only five gang members. The exception was the El Paso Police Department, which arrested 53 criminal gang members and didn’t detain anyone.

Now obviously some people really do view the prospect of people moving from someplace that isn’t in the United States in order to live in the United States and do work voluntarily in exchange for money as a clear and present danger to the Republic. But that’s a bit nuts.

What’s not nuts is the idea that a country would want to secure its border against terrorists, foreign spies, smugglers, or other international criminal enterprises. But severe restrictions on people’s ability to move to the United States and do legal work voluntarily in exchange for money makes it harder to meet these legitimate security goals, not easier. Of course simply turning a blind eye to the fact that huge numbers of people are breaking the rules as they cross the border to do work doesn’t help either. But the most practical approach to this issue would be to increase the number of people who are able to come here through legitimate channels. That would reduce the quantity of illegitimate border crossings and ensure that a high proportion of said crossings are about genuinely nefarious activities. That, in turn, would make it easier for law enforcement to focus on stopping nefarious doings.