Is the Arizona border safer than ever?

By most accounts, the Arizona border appears to be safer than ever. Illegal border crossings are down, mainly because the Department of Homeland Security is able to monitor more of the border than ever before. That’s the conclusion reached by The Center for American Progress (CAP), a progressive advocacy and research organization, after its recent trip to the Arizona border.

In its detailed report, the organization documents the recent history and build-up of border security, stating in a matter-of-fact way, how the number of Border Patrol agents has doubled in seven years and that we’ve spent over $115 billion in eight years on border and immigration issues. The CAP seems to be quite pleased by this huge militarization at the border, which seems like an odd stance for a progressive group. However, this is probably because it believes that since the border is now secure, we can move on to other immigration issues, like dealing with undocumented workers here and reuniting families separated by the border.

However, the CAP bases its view, that unauthorized crossings are down, on comparisons made by the Border Patrol between the number of known attempted crossings and the number of arrests. It used to be that the Border Patrol made educated guesses but had no hard data to properly verify. Now they verify it utilizing surveillance technology which monitors those they see crossing and compare that data with those who are actually caught. While the number of attempted crossings is almost certainly down, this methodology has flaws. It only counts as crossing those it can see. Obviously, there are major problems with this tact, as parts of the Arizona border are so rugged that surveillance is difficult, plus some almost certainly avoid being seen by crossing in tunnels, in vehicles, by air, or by sea. If the number of those crossing is underestimated, then the percentage of those apprehended is artificially high.

Thus, the number of those making unauthorized crossings is still a known unknown. The multitude of ways they attempt it may well be unknown unknowns. The article points out that the Border Patrol is now implementing a pincer movement which appears to be funneling most crossings through the Tucson area. This actually makes things more dangerous for all involved. Plus, since the cartels now control the human smuggling, those being smuggled are too often held against their will in the States, brutalized, and held for ransom. So, while the numbers of those crossing may be down, violence at the border is increasing.

The violence and corruption in Mexico border towns has reached levels that are beyond appalling. It’s hard to see how some of it won’t spill over. Indeed, some say this process has already begun. So, while undocumented crossings may be down, this doesn’t necessarily mean things will be calming down anytime soon.

The CAP concludes by saying that we should use this perhaps temporary drop in undocumented immigration to secure ports of entry in more flexible ways in order to meet to the ever-changing shifts in drug and human smuggling, devise ways to sanely register the 11 million undocumented workers here now, and establish channels so “economic migrants” can come here with their families.

As to whether the border is safer now, well, it’s those known unknowns and unknown unknowns that we need to think about. We don’t really know what the cartels are doing.


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