A Lopsided Approach to Border Violence Doesn’t Solve Anything

mexico violenceDuring a debate of the defense authorization bill this week, Republican members of Congress are expected to push for the deployment of even more troops to the border. This is in addition to the 1,200 National Guard troops President Obama already requested to address border violence and the flow of drugs and guns across the border last month. However, while advocating for the allocation of more money and manpower to “secure the border” may make for good campaigning in an election year, experts find that beefing up the border actually does little to curb border violence. In fact, these “get tough” border initiatives—more troops, fencing and operations that target non-violent border crossers—pull valuable resources away from solving violent crimes.

Despite the increase in border patrol agents over the last decade, the flow of drugs and guns across the border continues to grow. According to David Shirk, Director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego:

The border patrol has doubled in size to 20,000 agents—up 15% from previous year and more than double a decade ago. There are also more than 3,000 Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents, 300 National Guard troops (with 1,200 more on their way), and a significant surge in the number of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms personnel. However, border security advocates say that this is still not enough.

Indeed, the border-centric approach has encouraged drug trafficking organizations to evolve from relatively small scale, low-level operations in the 1980s into the highly sophisticated, heavily-armed criminal organizations that are today seriously undermining the Mexican state. The flow of drugs and immigrants continued practically unabated, despite these very costly investments in border security.

According to Jennifer Bernal of the Center for New American Security, rather than installing more fencing or deploying more troops, federal agencies should be coordinating with foreign governments:

Even as border patrolling has improved, the power of criminal organizations has grown. Crime rates in border cities are not skyrocketing as some claim, but high-profile incidents, such as striking murders and clashes with law enforcement, are on the rise. The most dangerous groups are the most sophisticated ones, and they know how to avoid enforcement hot spots.

Physical acts, such as installing fences or increasing patrols, will not do much to affect drug violence, or drug smuggling. What is needed along the border is a coordinated strategy among federal agencies and foreign governments—not incremental acts and feel-good deployments. Such a broad strategy would focus on reducing criminal groups’ ability to violently contest state authority, both by diminishing the sources of their proceeds (drugs) and their social base (through a mix of regional law enforcement and social programs).

Likewise, targeting non-violent border crossers with programs like Operation Streamline— a DHS program which mandates federal criminal prosecution and subsequent imprisonment of all persons caught crossing the border unlawfully—not only ties up the court system prosecuting non-violent immigration violators but diverts billions of dollars in the process—money and time that could be used to apprehend dangerous criminals. According to a report by Aarti Kholi of the Warren Institute at UC Berkeley:

Between 2002 and 2008, federal magistrate judges along the U.S.- Mexico border saw their misdemeanor immigration caseloads more than quadruple. Criminal prosecutions of petty immigration-related offenses increased by more than 330% in the border district courts, from 12,411 cases to 53,697.

seth hoyClearly, border violence is a serious issue facing the United States, but efforts to “secure the border” through bigger and longer fences, more boots on the ground and “get tough” initiatives make for better politics than they do policy. History has shown us that conflating non-violent border crossers and violent criminals doesn’t solve either problem. Until we start focusing on actual solutions that address drug cartels, gun smugglers and violent crime, history is doomed to repeat itself.

Seth Hoy

Republished with permission from Immigration Impact.

(Photo: Flickr user Manoso)


  1. says

    Coordinate with foreign governments? How can the U.S. govt. coordinate with a govt. that’s nearly a criminal enterprise and has created the situation in the first place?

    Secure the border? When will the major parties and politicians of the U.S. drop their fantasy that the unsealable 2K-mi. U.S.-Mexico border can be sealed? Instead, why not unite behind the realization that it shouldn’t even exist, but rather be a gateway between California and New California, Arizona and New Arizona, Texas and New Texas, Florida and New Florida, etc., after accepting the existence of Mexicans and working to share the New World with them in peace and prosperity. The only thing that has to go for the border to go poof is the totally corrupt Mexican govt. that keeps Mexico backward and undeveloped and rides the rich on the backs of the poor while making sweetheart deals with the U.S. establishment to avoid the spotlight. Learn about the nonpartisan Megamerge Dissolution Solution at http://go.to/megamerge

    • Marshall says

      this is a pipe dream and will never pass a vote in the US. I have read your site and you have too little details and it is in the details that the devil lives.

  2. SK says

    “Until we start focusing on actual solutions that address drug cartels, gun smugglers and violent crime, history is doomed to repeat itself.”

    The organization the author works for, the Immigration Policy Center, advocates amnesty for illegal aliens as a solution to the problem of border states having to pay for millions of illegal immigrants pounding down the doors. Their argument is that we have millions of people breaking the law, so let’s forgive them, make them citizens, and then they’re no longer breaking the law. Brilliant!

    The federal government has already given illegal aliens amnesty three separate times in the past half century. What is the result of giving amnesty? Millions more decide to jump ahead of the line in front of those trying to immigrate here legally. Theses new lawbreakers tap out our social systems, degrade our economy and then start demanding amnesty for themselves.

    Hey Seth, perhaps you and your open border proponents at the Immigration Policy Center should take your own advice: History is doomed to repeat itself if we give amnesty to millions MORE illegal aliens.

    If you want to solve the problem of illegal aliens, stop giving them incentive to break the law by coming here:

    1) Establish that the Fourteenth Amendment does NOT give citizenship to babies of illegal aliens. Eliminate the “anchor baby” benefit to breaking the law.
    2) Put employers who hire illegal aliens in jail and confiscate their assets the way we take cars and homes and factories from drug dealers. Rich, unethical employers won’t risk jail time and loss of their investments.
    3) Increase the penalty for illegal immigration.
    4) Reward those who abide by immigration law.
    5) Require states to assist the federal government in identifying and deporting all criminals who are here illegally.

    • Marshall says

      You are so right, I lived in three different countries that had walls between neighbors and people who tried to pass over those boarders without legal papers were shot PDQ. We need to make our southern boarder as tough to pass through as the southern Mecican boarder, which Mexico defends while not defending the northern boarder. wonder why they do that??

      • Paul McDermott says

        Marshall, what’s a “southern Mecican boarder”? Is it someone from the South who spends a night in that nice Mecica B & B?


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