Note: A lot of dubious to very dubious assertions here, and a whole
lot of "we can't" and "we won't". Fellow former GI's will have
some more colorful descriptions of this.
Candidates vow to secure border, but it could be tough task
Dec. 6, 2011 07:14 AM
AUSTIN, Texas -- Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have promised to
complete a nearly 1,950-mile fence. Michele Bachmann wants a double
fence. Ron Paul pledges to secure the nation's southern border by any
means necessary, and Rick Perry says he can secure it without a fence
-- and do so within a year of taking office as president.
But a border that is sealed off to all illegal immigrants and drugs
flowing north is a promise none of them could keep.
"Securing the border is a wonderful slogan, but that's pretty much
all it is," said Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the
libertarian Cato Institute. "Even to come close would require
measures that would make legal commerce with Mexico impossible.
That's an enormous price for what would still be a very leaky system."
Perry, the longest-serving governor of a state that makes up roughly
65 percent of America's border with Mexico, already knows that. What
he's actually pledging, clarifies spokeswoman Catherine Frazier, is
achieving "operational control" of the border -- defined by the U.S.
Border Patrol as areas where it can detect, respond to and interdict
illegal activity either at the border or after entry into the U.S.
The U.S. Border Patrol says 873 miles of the border, about 44
percent, have been brought under operational control. Homeland
Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said that "the border is
better now than it ever has been."
Still, that means full control isn't even half met. And even getting
this far required bolstering the ranks of the Border Patrol to the
highest levels ever, from about 9,500 along the border in 2004 to
18,152 today. Immigration and Customs Enforcement also has a record
number of agents on the border, and five Predator drones now patrol
strategic parts of it, with a sixth coming by the end of the year.
About 650 miles of fencing has been constructed, and 1,200 National
Guard soldiers dispatched last year to Texas, California, Arizona and
New Mexico have had their deployment extended through the end of the
Campaigning in Iowa last week, Gingrich signed a pledge to build a
fence stretching the length of the border by the end of 2013. That
may help him recover from a recent statement that illegal immigrants
who have been established in the U.S. for many years should be
allowed to remain in the country -- a position his opponents have
likened to amnesty.
Perry has steadfastly opposed the fence, saying it would take 10 to
15 years to build, cost $30 billion and wouldn't work anyway.
Instead, he wants to flood the border with more National Guard troops
until the number of Border Patrol agents necessary to really secure
the area are trained and deployed. He also wants to build strategic
fencing in high-traffic areas and make better use of airborne
surveillance. Perry claims that would mean full operational control
by January 2014.
Romney, meanwhile, has publicly agreed with Perry that tackling
larger immigration policy reform is impossible without first securing
By some measures, U.S. authorities already have made strides toward
that goal. The Pew Hispanic Center says the number of illegal
immigrants in the United States peaked at 12 million in 2007, but
then dropped by almost 1 million through 2009, and has largely held
steady since then at about 11.1 million.
Border Patrol apprehensions of illegal immigrants have also fallen
sharply. In fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30, the Border Patrol
captured 327,577 illegal immigrants on the southwestern border -- the
lowest total in four decades.
The poor U.S. economy makes would-be illegal immigrants less likely
to come, and those who do must contend with Mexico's drug war, which
has seen cartel gunmen slaughter people heading north and dump their
bodies in mass graves. Jeff Passel, the Pew Center's senior
demographer, said the trip is now so risky that the number of illegal
immigrants using pricey people smugglers has spiked.
"It's hard to separate the effect of the economy and increased
enforcement," Passel said. "It's a lot harder physically to get
across the border, but it's also more expensive and more dangerous,
and you're faced with the prospect of having no job when you get here."
Spillover into the U.S. of Mexican drug violence is also difficult to
measure. In terms of violent crime, El Paso, Texas, ranks among the
safest cities in the U.S. -- even though it's across from violence-
torn Ciudad Juarez. Drug crime aside, Rep. Michael McCaul, a Texas
Republican who heads a Homeland Security subcommittee, said he's
worried about cartels teaming with international terrorists.
"It's not secure," McCaul said of the border, "and anybody that lives
down there, I think, will tell you that." U.S. intelligence officials
counter that they know of no case in which a terrorist has sneaked
across the border to plot actively against the U.S.
Carpenter, who has written extensively on the increasing brutality of
Mexican drug cartels, called the presidential candidates' pledges to
secure the border "mainly defensive."
"If you don't take a strong position on border security, you leave
yourself open to allegations that you're soft on immigration or
drugs," he said.
Michael Lytle, a former consultant on border security and
counterterrorism, said it's hard to even conceptualize a fully secure
border since the Arizona desert presents different challenges than
the millions of commercial trucks rumbling north into Laredo, Texas,
or than pedestrians streaming from Tijuana to San Diego. Tracking
would-be terrorists also has little to do with stopping migrant
workers sneaking into the U.S., or coping with well-armed drug
"You can't look at it as 'the whole border,'" he said.
Lytle, an associate professor at the University of Texas at
Brownsville, said a deployment of 15,000 National Guard troops could
make an impact -- but it would be a hard sell for a Defense
Department facing budget cuts.
"A troop surge there, would that seal the border? Probably not,"
Lytle said. "And even if it did, how long could you sustain that?"
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