The Department of Homeland Security erected 649 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2011, adding vehicle barriers, radio towers, flood lighting, and mobile surveillance. Nonetheless, American attitudes on the security of the southern border haven’t changed much over the past several years, according to the latest national survey by the Pew Research Center.
Of 1,502 participants surveyed in a week-long telephone interview in September, 46 percent favored building a fence along the entire U.S.-Mexico border, according to the survey. Public consensus about building a fence has remained around 46 percent when Pew first conducted the survey in 2007 and again in 2011.
In that time, GOP-affiliated Americans have become even more eager to toughen border security. In 2015, 73 percent of Republicans told Pew that they supported building a fence, up 11 percent from when the question was asked in 2007.
That could be because recent national discourse on immigration policy suggests that border enforcement is scarily weak. During the second GOP debate last month, for instance, Carly Fiorina declared, “The border’s been insecure for 25 years.” Donald Trump emphasized the need to “build a wall, a wall that works.” Ben Carson chimed in, stating, “If we don’t seal the border, the rest of this stuff clearly doesn’t matter” and adding that some fences in Arizona were unmanned.
Meanwhile, numerous lawmakers capitalized on the increase of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border last year to make a tenuous connection to lax border enforcement. Some even suggested that the children could be terrorists or disease carriers. Lawmakers also somehow missed the connection that border agents intercepted 66,115 children at the southern border last year, meaning that those kids are in court proceedings to determine whether they get to stay.
Here’s the reality, though: By 2012, there were 21,370 Customs and Border Protection agents, focusing on “high-risk areas and flows” and targeting “responses to meet those threats.” By some accounts, the U.S. government has successfully militarized the southern border, pouring $17.9 billion into more boots-on-the-ground and infrastructure in the 2012 fiscal year. Another study from the Pew Research Center indicated that net migration from Mexico could be negative, meaning that more people moved from the United States to Mexico between 2005 and 2010. And the country’s undocumented population has stabilized in recent years, leveling off at 11.3 million for the past five years.
Public consensus may not have changed much, but there is one figure that has increased in response to the government building up enforcement along the southern border since 1994. Shutting down urban areas where people traditionally crossed has led to a “funnel effect” of migrants using more dangerous terrain sometimes through treacherous elements, often with smugglers. There was an average of 12 deaths annually between 1990 and 1999 in southern Arizona. And between 2000 and 2014, more than 6,000 people died trying to cross the southern border, an average of about 163 deaths annually.