After Investment Our Southwest Border Safer, Pathway to Citizenship In Sight

By: Kristian Ramos, Policy Director of the 21st Century Border Initiative, Immigration Reform, NDN

Follow Kristian at @kramos1841.

The southwest border region has been a central part of every major recent immigration debate, and this year is no different. With border triggers central tied to passing a pathway to citizenship, the region has actually been thrust directly into the heart of this debate. While the region is by no means perfect, there have been great improvements in safety along the southwest border with Mexico, putting Congress in a position to finally pass a pathway to citizenship.

Over the last twenty years the federal government has invested significant resources in securing our border. While there is certainly more to do, meeting additional border metrics is an achievable goal. In fact the last immigration bill debated before the Senate in 2007 also tied legalization to border security metrics. Recent studies show that the federal government has not only met each of that last bill’s border enforcement benchmarks, it actually surpassed them.

The U.S. government spent $18 billion on immigration enforcement in 2012 alone. The number of people detained by federal officials has doubled from about 200,000 in 2001 to nearly 400,000 in 2011. While there has been much written about the growth of our enforcement apparatus along the border, that is only part of the story. Our economic relationship with Mexico has evolved significantly in recent years, and must factor into any calculations on border security. Our southern neighbor should be viewed not as simply a source of undocumented migrants and trafficking, and increasingly as a source of legal tourism and trade.

Mexico has changed tremendously over the last decade. It is now the thirteenth largest economy in the world is our third largest trading partner and second largest export market. By 2011, the gross national income in Mexico per capita had risen to nearly $9,420, nearly triple what it was in 1991. Also of note, the birth rate per Mexican woman has fallen from 7.3 in 1960 to 2 today. The result of these developments is that the net migration of undocumented immigrants from Mexico is zero and that flow into the U.S. we saw over the last decade is unlikely to occur again.

Even prominent Republicans are acknowledging that there has been incredible progress along the border. Arizona Senator John McCain recently noted that “there was no question that there has been a significant reduction in illegal crossings over the past five years,” and further pointed out that “apprehension by the border patrol have dropped 70 percent from 2005 to 2012.” McCain also articulated the need for additional resources to crack down on “drug traffickers and criminals that cross the border.” He clarified that the “final decision” on border security would be made by the Department of Homeland Security and not any new commission created by Congress.

This is good news, the U.S. governments investment in the Southwest border region and their being so much improvement, advocates should be cautiously optimistic that we are finally on the precipice of moving beyond enforcement only legislation and finally pass legislation with a full pathway to citizenship.

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