Border policy myths, realities and faulty assumptions

By Karl Reiner

Gov. Brewer recently asserted that Arizona's controversial SB 1070 served as the catalyst for the creation of the immigration legislation now in Congress.  Although much of SB 1070 was set aside by the Gov Brewer 1courts, the governor believes the law, costly legal fights and publicity helped start the momentum that led to the current bipartisan immigration proposal.

The governor has a point because the SB 1070 effort was not a low cost affair.  The publicity it generated saddled Arizona with a mostly negative reputation.  In far away Washington, Congress would have been aware of the SB 1070 tempest.  It could have encouraged senators to consider moving on immigration legislation.  

The cantankerous view of Mexico held by much of Arizona's leadership has been noted by Fred DuVal, a candidate for governor.  He wants to change the discussion about the Mexican border from one of fear to one of economic opportunity.  With Mexico's economy growing faster, border security improving and illegal migration rates declining, a more balanced view in the state capital would not be out of order.

It could benefit Arizona's economy.  The narrow focus of the state's politicians probably hands an advantage to other exporting states such as Texas and California.  In 2012, exports from Texas to Mexico were valued at $94.7 billion, over 15 times higher than Arizona's $6.2 billion.  Although important, border problems should not be emphasized to the exclusion of everything else.  Across the U.S., about 6 million jobs are directly or indirectly tied to exports to Mexico.

Some of the human aspects of the border enforcement problem tend to get overlooked. In the Tucson sector, the Border Patrol apprehends over 124,000 people yearly.  The Kino Border Initiative is a charitable Kino 1organization that operates shelter programs (including one for women and children) in Nogales, Sonora. Its director, the Rev. Sean Carroll, S.J., was in Washington in early April testifying before a congressional committee.

The Kino shelters serve an average of 4,887 meals per month to deportees. Its managers have noticed a troublesome family separation problem. Families are being split up. Women are deported to a different port of entry than their husbands. Kino finds that over 38% of the deportees coming through its facilities were separated from the family members they were travelling with.

Kino's staff argues that separating deported family members is not good policy.  U.S. deportation procedures should try to preserve family unity.  Families should not be separated because it exposes individuals in unfamiliar surroundings to violence from criminal gangs, thieves and traffickers.

According to data compiled by the Kino organization, those deported through Nogales hailed originally from the poorer areas of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The most common reason given by deportees for entering the U.S. was to find employment.  79.6% of the deportees interviewed said they left home due to a lack of work. 18.3% were trying to reunite with family in the U.S.

Congress may have contributed to the border problem by not exercising oversight as federal programs developed. Was the Mexican government prepared to deal with all the economic consequences when it signed Nogales 1the North American Free Trade Agreement?  Why was it assumed that drug traffickers and human smugglers would not switch to Arizona when border security was tightened to the east and west?  Given the flow of migrants from Central America, are the developmental programs there having the desired effect? 

The border issue is made up of the complex jumble of illegal drug traffic, migrants, normal international trade, barriers, drones and enforcement policy.  As the immigration proposal works its way through the legislative process, the economic development problem underlying the illegal migration issue should not be ignored. Arizona's two senators and nine representatives should ensure it doesn't get lost in the shuffle.            

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