Guest Editorial: Immigration rhetoric is stale

The Arizona Republic
Dec. 28

Effective border enforcement isn’t about fences and it doesn’t happen at the border.

Guest Editorial

But few politicians have the courage to say that.

Instead we get that danged fence. Again. Donald Trump says he’ll build a big one and have Mexico pay for it. Sen. Ted Cruz wants a wall, too. And he’d hire Trump to build it.

This is silly, distracting and out of touch with reality.

The fence is a largely completed component of a broader border strategy that relies on modern technology, not higher walls.

Solar-powered towers with radar and cameras that offer real-time, day-and-night surveillance are functional in Nogales as part of the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan.

More are planned, in addition to the underground sensors, imaging sensors, remote surveillance stations and mobile units that are already in place.

Unlike the previous $1 billion SBInet boondoggle in which animals and the wind set off sensors, this “virtual fence” system is showing real promise, providing high-resolution images so agents can be dispatched to intercept drug smugglers and others crossing the border illegally.

It represents the future of border enforcement. It is vastly better than continuing to fortify an ugly, unneighborly concrete-and-steel barrier between the United States and Mexico, a valuable trading partner.

There are now about 700 miles of fencing along the southwest border. This is an increase from 77 miles in 2000. The fence cost about $2.3 billion to build and $50 million a year to maintain, according to testimony to Congress by the Department of Homeland Security.

Over the years, DHS has told Congress that fencing is only part of its larger strategy, and asked for flexibility over where and how to use fences.

Politicians who want to wall off America are missing another important point: You don’t stop illegal immigration at the international border. You stop it the job site.

For one thing, a large percentage of undocumented people in this country did not cross the border illegally. They overstayed their visas and found jobs. Most of those who did cross the border illegally came here to work. They stayed because they got hired, too.

They built lives here because laws against hiring people who lack work authorization have not been vigorously or widely enforced.

Jobs are the prize that lure undocumented workers. Jobs are readily available because immigration policies under successive Congresses and five presidents have not effectively eliminated that prize, despite a 1986 law that says they should.

Congress also failed to provide an adequate system for willing workers to come legally. True to the principles of supply and demand, migrants responded – sometimes risking their lives – to satisfy the demand for their labor.

Deporting those here now would rip apart families and communities, as well as hurt businesses. It also would cost in excess of $258 billion to deport 11 million people, according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

The goal should be to legalize the undocumented workers and their families who have ties to this country, while gaining true control of the border and preventing future illegal immigration.

That takes political courage.

It requires moving into the 21st century reality that technology is needed at the border, not more fences. It is also about recognizing that the real border is in the personnel offices, not at the international line.