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U.S.-Mexican Border Insecurity

Author: Eben Kaplan
February 21, 2006

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The estimated 1,500 illegal immigrants who cross the porous U.S.-Mexican border daily have long posed a challenge for U.S. policymakers, as cfr.org's Esther Pan explains in this CFR Background Q&A. On March 4, the Senate will begin considering an immigration bill (PDF), already passed by the House, which, among other things, would fund construction of a wall along 700 miles of the border. The bill could help President Bush's plan for immigration reform, but will likely cause a contentious congressional debate (Miami Herald). As the Weekly Standard notes, immigration could also prove a divisive issue for the president's party in the mid-term elections this November.

Critics attack the immigration bill as harsh, unfair, and economically unwise. It would punish, for instance, humanitarian groups aiding illegal immigrants (AZ Star). Eleven Latin American nations have banded together to oppose the bill (Miami Herald).

From a homeland security standpoint, the porous border is undeniably a concern. But, as CFR's Stephen Flynn told cfr.org, the 9/11 terrorists hardly needed to wade the Rio Grande. They flew in on valid visas.

Still, the friction is real. Last month, U.S. Border Patrol officers clashed with smugglers (SDTrib) dressed in Mexican Army uniforms. President Bush and his Mexican counterpart, Vicente Fox, spoke February 20 about working together to stop violence at the border (WashTimes). The Department of Homeland Security revamped its National Border Patrol Strategy recently and launched a Secure Border Initiative, while President Bush's proposed 2007 budget (PDF) spends heavily to secure the borders.

Still, Michael Cutler, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), contends these measures are insufficient if stopping the flow of illegal immigrants is the goal. Other critics cite data suggesting heightened border security creates an increasingly sophisticated and dangerous smuggling industry (LAT). And a study by University of California, San Diego, found that, in some cases, tougher U.S. border control policies encouraged illegal immigrants to stay in the United States longer.

Underneath the strategic issues is a broader debate over the social aspects of immigration in an era of globalization (WashPost). A recent CIS report shows immigration to the United States reached unprecedented levels in recent years. Writing in Foreign Policy, Samuel Huntington argues this threatens to fracture U.S. society because the new waves of immigrants do not share the "values that built the American dream." But Laura Carlsen of the International Relations Center contends the United States relies on immigration as a vital source of labor.

The Migration Policy Institute provides a variety of resources on immigration policy, and a CFR Task Force report addresses immigration in the context of the North American community.

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