Borderline politics

Frontier will never be impenetrable
This is an archived article that was published on in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There is a limit to just how "secure" we can make the border between the United States and Mexico. And there is a limit to just how much the issue of border security can be made into an excuse to stop comprehensive immigration reform from moving forward.

As Rep. Jason Chaffetz paid a proper congressional oversight call on the U.S. Border Patrol agents in the vicinity of Yuma, Ariz., this week, he should be open to the possibility that both limits have been effectively reached.

Chaffetz tagged along with Border Patrol agents, eagerly, if somewhat flippantly, tweeting about the joy of seizing 15 pounds of meth and 500 pounds of pot, like the kid who was allowed to ring the bell on the fire engine.

But even if we were willing to spend lavish amounts of money building endless walls and bottomless pits, the idea that the U.S.-Mexico border could ever be totally impenetrable is without foundation. As they say, building a 10-foot wall only creates a demand for 11-foot ladders.

Another factor in this argument is the recent claim by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that the border "is as secure as it has ever been." Many may scoff at such a statement, and others may argue that the best it has ever been is still not good enough.

But, at least in measuring things we can measure, border security has been increased monumentally since 2007, when President George W. Bush proposed an immigration reform bill that also was based on the basic and reasonable idea that "securing the borders" is a key element of reform.

In that time, the number of Border Patrol agents has grown from less than 7,000 to more than 21,000. Hundreds of miles of fencing and vehicle barriers, 300 observation towers, even nine aerial drones, have been added to the effort.

Whether the fact that apprehensions of people illegally crossing the border are significantly down is a reflection of better enforcement or simply of the fact that the sluggish U.S. economy is not the draw it once was, remains a question.

A bird's eye — or, perhaps, a drone's eye — view of the issue argues against Chaffetz' stated preference for attacking the issue of immigration reform in bits and pieces. So many factors that influence one another — border security, identification standards, sanctions for those hiring undocumented workers, guest worker rules, the health of the Mexican economy — are part of the mix and should not be addressed in a vacuum.

We must not make perfect border control the enemy of good immigration reform. The latter is possible. The former isn't.