Since 9/11 the watchword in the debate over immigration reform has been “security.” As a result, most policymakers and pundits now approach the subject of immigration largely from a law-enforcement perspective. However, the current border-enforcement strategy, which tends to lump together terrorists and undocumented jobseekers from abroad as groups to be kept out, ignores the causes of undocumented immigration and fuels the expansion of the people-smuggling networks through which a foreign terrorist might enter the country.
The U.S. government's efforts to stem undocumented immigration by fortifying the U.S.-Mexico border have increased the profitability of the people-smuggling business and fostered greater sophistication in the smuggling networks through which a foreign terrorist might enter the country. U.S. national security would be better served if undocumented labor migration were taken out of the border-security equation by reforming the U.S. immigration system to accommodate U.S. labor demand.
A proper understanding of the causes of international migration suggests that punitive immigration and border policies tend to backfire, and this is precisely what has happened in the case of the United States and Mexico. Rather than raising the odds that undocumented immigrants will be apprehended, U.S. border-enforcement policies have reduced the apprehension rate to historical lows and in the process helped transform Mexican immigration from a regional to a national phenomenon. The solution to the problems associated with undocumented migration is not open borders, but frontiers that are reasonably regulated on a binational basis.
The current crisis of undocumented immigration to the United States has its roots in fundamental misunderstandings about the causes of immigration and the motivations of immigrants. A growing body of evidence indicates that current border enforcement policies are based on mistaken assumptions and have failed. Undocumented migrants continue to come to the United States, rates of apprehension are at all-time lows, and migrants are settling in the United States at higher rates than ever before. Developing effective and realistic immigration policies requires overcoming five basic myths about immigration.
New proposals for more fencing and Border Patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border may only perpetuate an unsuccessful and counterproductive policy that does not effectively enhance national security or control undocumented immigration.
After September 11th, efforts to reach an immigration accord with Mexico came to a halt. As a result, the Bush administration continues a poorly conceived border-enforcement strategy from the 1990s that ignores U.S. economic reality, contributes to hundreds of deaths each year among border crossers, does little to reduce undocumented migration or enhance national security, increases profits for immigrant smugglers, and fails to support the democratic transition that the administration of Vicente Fox represents for Mexico.