Jewish World Review July 24, 2006 / 28 Tamuz 5766
John H. Fund
Borderline Insanity: By now it should be clear that enforcement only won't solve the immigration problem
In trying to reconcile two dramatically different bills addressing illegal immigration, Congress is in danger of forgetting an important lesson of life on the southern U.S. border: whatever legislators do has to recognize the reality on the ground. In part, that means understanding that the millions of crossings every year by illegal aliens will be curbed only if the problem can be made manageable. Right now, with Border Patrol agents trying to apprehend potential busboys and gardeners along with terrorists and gang members, the problem is too big for any law enforcement agency in a democratic society to tackle.
Those who believe an enforcement-only approach to the flow of illegal aliens the basic approach of the House-passed bill is sufficient should recall that in 1969 President Richard Nixon visited the Mexican border to declare a "zero tolerance" policy on drug smuggling. Operation Intercept deployed thousands of additional Border Patrol, Customs Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service agents along the 2,000-mile border and subjected every passenger and cargo vehicle to a thorough search, creating a nightmare for millions of legal commuters and truck drivers. The unworkable program was soon moderated, but the resources were shifted to Nixon's vaunted "War on Drugs." For the past 37 years, billions have been spent to halt the flow of drug trafficking. Anyone who thinks the program has been successful in stopping the flow is likely under the influence of one of the substances Nixon was trying to stop.
The truth is that there is so much money to be made in smuggling both drugs and people across our southern border that even the tripling of the size and budget of the Border Patrol in the past decade has done little to stem the flow. Even without any new legislation this year, the Border Patrol is set to grow by more than half over the next six years.
In addition to all of the other challenges Border Patrol agents face, there is growing evidence that more of them are falling prey to the temptations of bribery and corruption, even though only 1 out of 30 applicants to the force is accepted after a rigorous screening. Just this month, two Border Patrol supervisors pleaded guilty to accepting more than $186,000 in payoffs in exchange for releasing immigrant smugglers from federal custody. In June brothers Raul and Fidel Villarreal, both Border Patrol agents, disappeared into Mexico after investigators began to suspect they were smuggling drugs and immigrants.
Federal agents here in Arizona report that investigators have uncovered many improper relationships between Border Patrol personnel and Mexican women who are illegally in the U.S. "There is tremendous temptation for someone who is less than honest to work with [smugglers]," Andrew Black, an FBI agent with the Border Corruption Task Force in San Diego, told the Washington Post. "Someone who is working the border can make their salary in a couple of nights."
T.J. Bonner, who heads the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents Border Patrol agents, is also pessimistic about stemming the tide of corruption. "The agency needs to take a long, hard, inward look and try to uncover the causes of this recent trend," he told the Post. A spokesman for the union told me that a national survey of 500 Border Patrol agents conduced by pollster Peter D. Hart (who also conducts surveys for The Wall Street Journal) found that 60% described their morale as "low or very low." Almost half had considered leaving the force in the previous year. A majority said they had not been given the tools and training they needed to handle their new job of preventing terrorists from crossing the border. "Morale is the lowest I've ever seen, and I've been around for 28 years," says Mr. Bonner.
Border Patrol agents I spoke with were reluctant to be quoted on the record, but all agreed that a comprehensive solution that combines more and better border enforcement with a well-designed guest-worker program is necessary if real progress is going to be made. "We need to enforce employer sanctions at the same time we give employers a legal path to fill the jobs they must have workers for," one agent told me. A retired agent points to the Bracero ("strong arms" in Spanish) guest-worker visa program, which until 1964 brought millions of Mexican workers north to work in the agriculture, construction and service industries.
The Bracero program was a response to an immigration crisis that peaked in 1954 when arrests of illegal aliens topped the one million mark. Uner the Bracero program, some 300,000 Mexican workers entered the U.S. legally every year. The results were dramatic. By 1959 arrests of illegal aliens had fallen to 45,000 a year; they remained under 100,000 until 1964.
But the Bracero program fell victim to opposition from labor union leaders who viewed the program as competition for their members. In 1964 they convinced President Lyndon Johnson to end the program. With its demise the problem of illegal immigration returned. By 1976, apprehensions were up to 876,000. They have increased most years since then, reaching the current level of 1.2 million annual arrests.
Border agents tell me they could most effectively do their job and contain the spreading corruption within their ranks is if they didn't have to chase down people coming here to work and instead could focus their resources on catching gang members and terrorists. Support is building for a rational middle ground on immigration proposed by Rep. Mike Pence, chairman of the House Republican Study Committee. It would have the U.S. government contract with private employment agencies such as Kelly Services to establish offices called Ellis Island Centers in countries that today supply the most illegal alien labor.
"It would encourage illegal aliens to self-deport and come back legally as guest workers," says Mr. Pence. "They would benefit from no longer living in fear or in the shadows of life and they could return home for visits. And since employers who hired anyone without such a visa would face stiff fines, it would make it increasingly difficult over time for those who weren't legal guest workers to get jobs."
A lot of complications need to be worked out, but the Pence approach recognizes the reality that border enforcement can work only if the pressure is reduced by providing a legal path for workers that recognizes the demands of our economy. It worked a half century ago with the Bracero program. Despite a tripling of resources and personnel on the border over the last decade, advocates of enforcement-only have yet to show that their approach can work in the real world.
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JWR contributor John H. Fund is author, most recently, of "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)
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©2001, John H. Fund