In the early days of the Bush administration, the president worked with Mexican President Vicente Fox on cross-border issues. The two pledged to work together to implement provisions of the North American Free Trade Agreement as well as the possibility of a guest-worker program and immigration, legal and illegal. Then came Sept. 11, 2001.
After the terrorist attacks, the United States understandably tightened its borders and other entry points. The Department of Homeland Security was created and the former Immigration and Naturalization Service was folded into the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Security at the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico was tightened and foreign travelers entering the United States through international airports got closer scrutiny.
Has all this been successful at keeping terrorists from entering the country to wreak havoc on a nervous population? The answer is a definite … they don’t know.
At first glance, the precautions put in place after Sept. 11 seem to have protected American lives and property. After all, there hasn’t been a similar attack since then. But to say that heightened border security, particularly on our frontier with Mexico, has thwarted any such attack might be premature.
In a report earlier this month, The Associated Press noted that in the two years following the destruction of the World Trade Center, not one terrorist has been apprehended trying to cross into the United States from Mexico. Is it because our southern border is not as porous as it once was? Maybe, but we’re not convinced the statistic is directly attributable to more travel restrictions on Mexican nationals and others at border crossings. It’s more likely that a terrorist has the financial resources to be able to infiltrate our country from the north, through Canada, where our resources are thinner. It defies logic to believe they’d risk getting caught in a dragnet in the south when our border with Canada is longer and less-well patrolled.
What tighter security along the Mexican border has done is force illegal immigrants crossing the border farther from settled areas and into the desert where they have a smaller chance of being intercepted and sent home. Unfortunately for them, those less-traveled routes also hold more risk from criminals and the natural elements. More than 700 Mexican nationals, many of them women and children, have died in the past two years attempting to achieve the American dream. They, and the ones who made it, are fleeing poverty for a chance to better themselves on this side of the border.
We know the arguments against illegal immigrants: they should follow the law like everyone else, they take jobs from U.S. citizens, they take more in benefits than they pay in taxes. And we agree with some of them. But isn’t the risk of a death sentence a bit harsh for these relatively harmless crimes?
Perhaps a better solution would be for our government to work with the Mexican government to find ways to address these problems while allowing a freer flow of workers back and forth across the border. In these times of dealing with possible terrorist infiltrators a completely open border is not a viable option. However, a plan to allow increased immigration could make the crossing safer for those who have legitimate business in the United States. As a result, those with more nefarious purposes would be forced to use the more remote areas that are harder to monitor. Although it is more difficult to watch remote areas, there would be a higher probability that any activity there would be terrorist in nature. That would justify concentrating high tech resources in these areas to prevent terrorists, rather than gardeners, from crossing the border.