January 14, 2009

Border Security basics

Let's start with the basics:

The United States of America, is a nation. Dictionary.com has as it's primary definition of nation, the following:

a large body of people, associated with a particular territory, that is sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or to possess a government peculiarly its own
And according to the American Heritage Dictionary, sovereignty is defined as

A nation or state's supreme power within its borders. A government might respond, for example, to criticism from foreign governments of its treatment of its own citizens by citing its rights of sovereignty.
Dictionary.com, "sovereignty," in The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition. Source location: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sovereignty. Available: http://dictionary.reference.com. Accessed: January 06, 2009.

The United States, according to these definitions, has a sovereign right as a nation to take actions as a nation that are in the best interest of its citizens. By extension, it's 'legal' citizens. Furthermore, those actions will need to take many forms. National Security is an important aspect of the responsibilities of the U.S. government, which in itself covers a broad spectrum of things from National Defense to cryptography. But the security of the nation is also dependent on secure borders.
For example, it is necessary to ensure that drugs are not smuggled into the country. It is important to ensure terrorists cannot enter the country. It's important to ensure hazardous materials and spoiled food products and killer bees do not enter the country. There are myriad examples why control of one's own borders is imperative for national security, and of course, those things, as best as possible are all legitimately screened upon entry. So why not people?

Would it not be in the nation's sovereign interest to ensure that people enter legally, and those who enter legally are chosen for the right reasons? Whether those reasons are political asylum, needed labor skills or because of family ties, is a secondary issue (important, but for another time to discuss). And if it's true that the United States must act in it's sovereign interests as a nation, then it must control the flow of immigration and to a less direct extent, emigration at it's borders.

Whether someone arrived illegally today, or 6 years ago, the same underlying principle applies - the US must protect it's citizens in every way necessary, and illegal immigration can cause a number of problems for citizens (potential crime, potential cost burdens, employment displacement, and many others). Therefore the government MUST intercede at the border to ensure that those entering the country are on legitimate visitor visas (These include the B1, H1B, L1, E1, and E2 visas.) or are legally existing or becoming citizens or have Green Cards. It's the government's job to do this.

Border Security Temperature Check.

Having a porous border security system has allowed by some accounts 12 million illegal immigrants to be in the country. That's approximately 4% of the existing US Government census population. 1 in 25 people are in the country illegally, and roughly 57% of those illegal immigrants are from Mexico, and another 24% from Latin American countries. Combined that is about 9.7 million people. How many are in jobs illegally? How many are criminals? How many require medical attention annually, or subsidized schooling? Obviously if the US were connected by a common border with Asia, the demographics of the illegal immigrants would be vastly different. It's not about being xenophobic - it's about managing your national resources and your economy and enforcing your laws within the boundaries of your own sovereignty. There are obvious costs and there are hidden costs.

The national interest is not served by having them in the country simply because they want to be in America (yet still identify as Mexican/Chilean/Venezuelan/etc. in many cases). And this is a potentially gaping hidden cost. If you have an electrical engineer from Columbia who wants to get into America legally but cannot because of a quota, that quota is established based on what America believes it can handle in a given year. If 25,000 less illegals were here, another legitimate, skilled laborer could be in a job in America that might otherwise go unfilled.

Personally, I'd rather see a skilled tradesman with a Green Card working for Delta than an unskilled laborer working in an agriculture field making sub-minimum wage by an employer skirting the law in order to compete on price for his lettuce heads. And to argue that those lettuce heads will go unpicked otherwise is a misguided argument. The company will either use higher paid labor or find an American willing to work at below minimum wage to do the same job. We keep hearing they don't exist, but I'm sure they do. Alternately, the market-warping minimum wage could be abandoned or modified at least.

Immigration itself is not a bad thing, so long as the existing infrastructure can cope with the growth. Illegals make that growth harder to control and can only be offset by reducing the number of legitimate entrants.

Southern border security has been beefed up.
[Graphs below are from the Congressional Research Service Report For Congress - Border Security: The Role of the U.S. Border Patrol]

Border Patrol Appropriations have also risen dramatically.
Yet attacks on border patrol agents have gone up. Hopefully because of an increased presence and therefore increase exposure to illegal immigrants and not because of an increasingly violent migrant population.

And more importantly apprehensions have gone down.
The problem is that increasing border patrols isn't working. An estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants per year are entering the country, with no downturn in sight except for successful apprehensions. Money and bodies aren't the problem - the effectiveness of the methods being used is the problem. A better method exists for border security. One that works well with Obama's promised mega-super-duper-infrastructure-spending-pallooza.

Tomorrow I will continue with Part 2 - What to do about the border.

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