By Karl Reiner
Despite the sour view held by some politicians in Phoenix, not everything on the Arizona-Sonora, Mexico border is dangerous. Arizona’s ports of entry process about 22 million visitors a year. They travel and spend money in Arizona. Through September 2013, U.S. merchandise exports to Mexico totaled $167.4 billion. Arizona’s exporters accounted for $5.2 billion. The expansion of Mariposa port of entry at Nogales, scheduled to be completed in late spring 2014, is stimulating development in the region. The work doubling the capacity of the port at Guaymas, Sonora will benefit Arizona’s economy when completed in two years. Cooperation is increasing between local officials because they realize Arizona and Sonora have intersecting economic interests.
The shrewd Texans have a broader prospective. They study the effect of border wait time on trade. Along with security, the Texas legislature has an interest in international cargo and passenger traffic trends, problems and solutions. This attitude may partly explain why the volume of Texas exports to Mexico is 14 times larger than Arizona’s. While approximately 400,000 undocumented migrants live in Arizona, about 1.7 million reside in Texas. The October 2013 unemployment rate stands at 8.2% in Arizona. Although Texas appears to be swamped by undocumented people, its unemployment rate is 6.2%. The correlation between the presence of illegal migrants and unemployment may be somewhat less than we have been led to believe.
The purpose of the Arizona legislature’s Joint Border Security Advisory Committee is to secure the state’s 375 mile border with Mexico and advise federal officials that Arizona’s border is not safe. The committee is composed of members of the Arizona House and Senate, a number of county sheriffs and state agency directors. The committee takes testimony regarding the border situation, analyzes border crossing data and crime statistics. It makes recommendations on how to increase border security.
The committee oversees the border security trust fund which set a goal of raising $50 million to build a border fence 15 feet high. Three years after being authorized by the legislature, the fence project appears stalled. Only $264,000 has been raised, a little short of the $2.8 million needed to pay for the first mile of fence. Given the low level of contributions, the committee is considering distributing the money to county sheriffs working the border area.
Congress has long neglected the economic factors pushing illegal migration across the southern border. Despite the fumbling of governments in their home countries, the remittances workers send home helps drive development in Mexico and Central America. Remittances to Mexico are running at the rate of $22 billion per year. Remittances account for over 10% of GDP in the Central American countries, reaching a high of 16.5% in El Salvador. Remittances have turned out to be a very effective substitute for foreign aid.
A Pew poll taken in 2013 indicated that more than half of Republican voters believe that immigrants are a burden on the country rather than a source of future strength. This view helps explain the hostility the U.S. House of Representatives has to the immigration bill passed by the Senate. The bill includes 20,000 additional border patrol agents, more fencing, guest worker programs and a path to citizenship for the undocumented 11.7 million people currently residing in the U.S. Over 6 million of the undocumented are from Mexico. The remainder mostly originate from Central and South America, the Caribbean region and Asia.
The House will not consider the Senate bill, despite its security component. As an alternative, Congress could consider giving the undocumented immigrants legal residency instead of a path to citizenship. While this would exact a stiff price for breaking the law, it would regularize the status of undocumented migrants.
Migrants come to America to escape from dysfunctional settings. Their productivity tends to rapidly increase in a country with good governance and the rule of law. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants were brought illegally to the U.S. as children. Known as Dream Act individuals, in 2012, President Obama issued an executive order halting their deportation. Current Arizona policy denies Dreamers access to driver licenses and in-state tuition. The state ought to reconsider, look at the issue as an economic investment. Due to the aging of the U.S. population, Dreamers should be encouraged to work and get educated. The more they can earn in the future, the more they will pay in taxes.
Border security will remain an issue because the disparity in the economies of the U.S. and the countries south of the border will continue to propel migration for some time. Although the trend has been downward, Border Patrol apprehensions along the Mexican border are running at approximately 360,000 per year. The large American appetite for illegal drugs (street value $65 billion per year) is another factor. The Mexican border is the entry route for much of the marijuana, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and methamphetamine moving into the American market. Border security is imperative, but Arizona’s politicians also have to consider economic development issues and how to control the demand for illegal drugs as part of the border security question.