Since the phrase is coming up in the news a lot lately, I figured I should spell this out clearly: when you talk about “adding border security” or “making the border more secure,” with regards to undocumented immigration across the southern border of the United States, you’re either using the wrong words or advocating something truly heinous and inhumane.
Here’s the issue: right now, and for the past several months, the U.S. has been apprehending a large number of undocumented children from South and Central American countries other than Mexico. The country of origin is relevant; a 2008 law (signed by George W. Bush) says that children under 18 from countries that do not share a border with the United States can’t be deported without an asylum/refugee status hearing in front of a judge. And because qualified judges are not exactly clamoring for the thankless, depressing, and underpaid job, those hearings are backlogged more than a year out as a default.
Adding people whose job it is to seek out and arrest undocumented immigrants near the U.S. border won’t help with this problem. These aren’t adult immigrants hoping to live and work “under the radar” in the United States because the money is good. They’re kids fleeing violent countries who are guaranteed a hearing that will take years to happen once they get here and enter the system, and who in the meantime will be housed with their families in the States if at all possible (since that’s cheaper than creating government housing for them).
By and large, these immigrants aren’t trying to evade capture. In many cases they’re heading directly toward the Border Patrol or other law enforcement as soon as they get across the border. You can add as many cops (or, god help us, troops) as you like, but it’ll just slightly increase the speed at which individuals are handcuffed, and that’s really not where the bottleneck is in the system.
At that point, “more border security” means one of two things. One option is that it’s a broad term being inaccurately used to mean improving the legal system that deals with immigrants after arrest: hiring more judges, building and funding housing facilities, etc., which most people will agree is a good idea in theory, but which costs money and requires finding a lot of people to do not very fun jobs, making it a challenge in practice. (The President proposed a bill to fund the needed improvements, but the House refuses to take it up, and is preparing for a month-long recess without introducing an alternative.)
The other thing “more border security” can mean is making the actual, physical process of crossing the border harder. There are a limited number of humane, legal, and physically feasible ways to do that, and we’ve already done most of them. At the point where the infrastructure we already have in place isn’t stopping migrants, very little will.
The people coming here are generally afraid of being assaulted or murdered if they stay in their home country, meaning any physical deterrent short of that is still the better option. Getting cut crawling through barbed wire or suffering dehydration in the desert sucks, but it’s not going to stop someone who thinks the alternative is staying home and waiting to catch a stray bullet.
Short of shooting people in the attempt (which, in addition to the complicated legal issues of killing foreign nationals on foreign soil, would put us alongside North Korea and basically no one else in club of nations that use lethal force to secure borders during peacetime), there’s not a lot we can do to create a physical deterrent to immigration along the southern border. It’s already a rough trip; making it a little bit rougher will not stop that many additional migrants per dollar. About the only thing we can do is arrest people even faster once they make it across, which will do nothing to address the massive backlog of legally-mandated court hearings.
So if someone tells you that “the first step is securing the border” or some such nonsense, you might ask them what they mean. Because they’re either a sensible person who sees that we need more judges handling immigration cases and more permanent facilities to house people we’ve detained while they await those hearings, and would be willing to spend taxpayer money to help see the laws of the nation executed faithfully, or else they’re a fucking monster who thinks we should be shooting children on foreign soil just to prove a point.
I would like to believe most people fall into the former camp, but I’ve been disappointed before.