During the August congressional recess, Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Rep. Rob Bishop said they do not oppose a legalization process for undocumented immigrants in the United States, but border security must come first. They have not said what a secure border looks like.
I recently traveled to the Tucson sector of the U.S. border. It is clearly marked by a massive metal fence, interspersed with camera towers. In the areas without fencing, the vast expanse of desert is patrolled by border agents with helicopters, drones, motion sensors and SUVs.
After my group took a trip on a migrant trail, Border Patrol informed us that they knew exactly where we had walked, even though we had not seen or heard anything or anyone. We did not see any buff young adults carrying 70-pound packs of drugs, only the detritus left by people desperately seeking a way out of poverty in their home country and out of the deadly terrain in ours.
The U.S.-Mexico border will never be secure so long as the United States continues to view undocumented immigration as the problem rather than a symptom of many social and political ills.
The border is not lacking in security measures; it is fenced, patrolled and defended like a military zone. What is lacking are sound policies that help eliminate the conditions that compel people to cross without documentation.
So what might make our border secure? First, U.S. citizens could stop funding drug and human smuggling cartels in Mexico, and U.S. financial regulators could quit making it easy for the cartels to launder billions of dollars made in the U.S.
Treasury officials who regulate the international movement of currency have historically ignored hundreds of millions of dollars wire-transferred to pay for human smuggling. Treasury is aware of "stored value instruments" (pre-paid cards that can be taken across the border regardless of the amount of cash stored on them) and "funnel" accounts in major banks used to move dollars illegally across the border, yet Treasury has only imposed minimal fines on banks and avoided criminal penalties even when money-smuggling crimes have been uncovered.
As former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard explains, "Until government agencies ... get more serious about cutting off the illegal international flow of funds, we can never say we have a ‘secure’ border."
Second, our border might be more secure if U.S. businesses stopped exploiting Mexican workers on both sides of the fence. U.S. businesses operating under the North American Free Trade Agreement depress wages in Mexico. On the U.S. side, businesses blithely ignore U.S. laws and hire undocumented immigrants who work for subsistence wages and in conditions that violate U.S. safety laws.
Third, we might have a more secure border if Congress quit side-stepping its duty to fix our broken immigration system. Despite immigration backlogs and growing labor needs, the system has not significantly changed in more than 20 years and has not been revamped since 1965.
Lining armed guards along the border, allowing Humvees to patrol wilderness areas, or building a bigger fence will not make us secure, as a number of totalitarian regimes can attest. What makes us secure is protecting our core beliefs in the value of human life, human rights and human dignity.
An earned path to citizenship will improve security. Enforcement of wage and workplace safety laws will improve security. Law enforcement efforts focused on human trafficking and drug cartels will improve security. Adding patrols or deporting desperate migrants will not.
Jean Hill is government liaison for the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City.
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