Our Iron Curtain

The ‘border security’ provisions of the new immigration bill solve a problem that isn’t.

Achy Obejas

A U.S. Border Patrol agent stands at the border fence in Nogales, Ariz. (John Moore/Getty Images)

As the U.S. senate considers an immigration reform bill in June that includes a path to citizenship for currently undocumented residents — a very long path, at least 13 years — border security has emerged as the great bugaboo in the debate.

It’s clear that the obsession with tightening the border has created an unprecedented police state at the gateways.

The bill, put together by the bipartisan team of senators called the Gang of Eight, cleared the Judiciary Committee after more than 300 attempts to amend it — including many by conservative Republicans intended to kill it by piling on provisions that couldn’t pass.

And, in fact, the bill only made it to the Senate floor because the Gang accepted at least eight amendments from GOPers requiring symbolically enhanced border security as a condition for any kind of road to citizenship. Among these was an amendment requiring that 90 percent of all unauthorized crossings be stopped, and another tightening the monitoring of student visas. (This last was an imbecilic response to the Boston Marathon bombings, which were committed by one U.S. citizen and one legal U.S. resident, neither of whom had ever held student visas.)

Republican senators can count on a Fox poll to back up their border vigilance: 73 percent of Americans support increasing border security before considering any other aspect of immigration reform. After the bill passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, Speaker of the House John Boehner vaguely threatened to derail the bill, referring to border security as dysfunctional.”

Nothing could be further from the truth.

A report released earlier this year, Immigration Enforcement in the United States: The Rise of a Formidable Machinery,” by the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan think tank that studies the movement of people, indicates that our borders have never been more secure. It’s clear that the obsession with tightening the border — and let’s be clear that by border” we mean only the southern border — has created an unprecedented police state at the gateways.

Consider these findings from the report:

  1. Under Obama, the government has spent more on immigration enforcement than under any previous president. At almost $18 billion, the combined 2012 budgets for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and its technology initiative, U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US-VISIT), were about 15 times the original 1986 budget (adjusted for inflation) of the agency they were created to replace, Immigration and Naturalization Service.
  2. That $18 billion is more than we spend on all other forms of federal criminal law enforcement combined. Taken together, the budgets of the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. Marshals and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives totaled just $14.4 billion for fiscal 2012.
  3. Between 2006 and 2011, the number of border agents doubled to almost 21,500.
  4. CBP refers more cases for prosecution than the FBI. And CBP and ICE combined refer more cases than the entire Department of Justice.
  5. Today, more than half of all federal prosecutions are for immigration-related crimes.
  6. Since 9/11, immigration, criminal and national security databases have been combined and made available to border agencies. The US-VISIT program has 148 million fingerprints on file and adds about 10 million each year.
  7. ICE and CBP deported a record 391,953 people under President Obama in 2011, nearly 10 percent more than the Bush administration’s 2008 total and 25 percent more than were deported in 2007.

Despite all this, and despite the GOP’s concern with the source of new immigrants (or, as Ann Coulter put it, When did we vote to become Mexico?”), undocumented immigration from Mexico dropped 53 percent between 2008 and 2011. In fact, in recent years, net migration from Mexico has stood at zero, with as many Mexicans leaving the United States as entering it. Dysfunctional? Yeah, dysfunctional. But not in the way Boehner means it.

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Achy Obejas, a Havana-born member of the In These Times Board of Editors, is the author of Ruins (Akashic 2009, akashic​books​.com) and Aguas & Otros Cuentos (Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2009). A former staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, she is also the translator, into Spanish, of Junot Diaz’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead 2008). She is currently the Distinguished Visiting Writer at Mills College, Oakland, Calif.
Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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