Securing Our Border with Intelligence and Respect

There are basically two things crossing our border that we don’t want: undocumented people and drugs/money. Both of those streams are powered by fundamental market forces (people come looking for jobs, drugs come because Americans buy them, and money flows back to the cartels when Americans buy their drugs), meaning they will be very difficult to stop without altering the market dynamics (a very long-term project, if it’s possible at all). Between that and the fact that our border with Mexico is 2,000 miles long, step one is to recognize that while having complete control over our border is a good aspirational goal, a more realistic goal is probably to reduce the flow of drugs/money and undocumented people to negligible levels.

Another important fact to take into account is that most of the people illegally immigrating to the US are not Mexicans, they are South and Central Americans (net immigration of Mexicans to the US has actually been negative for a while now). Mexico is just a conduit, due to its geographical location. To that end, it might be worthwhile to help Mexico secure their southern border with Central America, which is much shorter than their border with us (700 miles vs. 2,000 miles). That approach should also help stem the flow of drugs, because much of the drugs that come into our country from Mexico are actually produced in South America.

Of the actual Mexicans coming into our country illegally, many are couriers for the cartels, carrying drugs and money back and forth across the border—which of course needs to be stopped. But a wall? These cartels are massive organizations with huge amounts of money, meaning they can and will get technical if they have to (indeed, they already do: they’re circumventing our border with unmanned underwater vehicles, a.k.a. one of the newest technologies to be deployed by our Navy).

We’ve already got a wall along plenty of our border with Mexico, and the results show it’s only worth so much. A wall seems like an outdated, simplistic, and ineffective response to the problem, as determined parties could easily go under, over, or around it (again, they already do). It also seems insulting, partly because of just how silly it is; it sends the message, “We’re so desperate to keep you people away from us, we’re willing to try literally anything.”

Rather than sinking billions of dollars into a bunch of concrete and steel that’s just going to sit there while people avoid it, we should build a much cheaper physical barrier that will keep people from simply driving across, and invest more in the kinds of sensors and technology that could help us catch the people who are going over, under, or around it. (It would be easy to engineer a chain link fence that can alert you when it is cut, if such a thing doesn’t already exist). Look at it as a two-step response: cut down the bulk of the flow cheaply, then invest in more sophisticated and versatile ways of catching what remains.

When it comes to securing our border with Mexico, we are approaching this all wrong by framing it as a way to keep Mexicans and all their Mexican problems inside Mexico. That’s no way to treat a neighbor and a friend. Mexico has a strong shared interest in securing its border with us—do you think being a conduit for drugs, dirty money, and refugees has been good for Mexico? That and corruption are probably the two biggest forces preventing Mexico from realizing its potential as a country, so why don’t we work with them to solve a problem that affects us both?

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