Border Reality Check
In the national conversation around immigration and the border region, the Trump administration has taken an enforcement-only approach and demanded more border walls, more agents, more detention beds, and more military interventions. But that assertion is not evidence-based and does not take into account the buildup of border enforcement that has already taken place and cost us billions of dollars.
Billions of taxpayer dollars are spent on...
- 19,437 Border Patrol agents
- 700+ miles of wall
- 9 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance (CBP is also testing man-portable drones in Arizona, Texas, and Vermont)
- 40,520 detention beds (that is the quota)
- 2,000 National Guard and 5,200 active-duty troops
HERE ARE THE FACTS:
We’ve Invested Billions in Border Enforcement
We’ve created a spending monster that is gobbling up taxpayer dollars that could be better spent elsewhere, like on health care, education, and infrastructure. Congress continues to channel more U.S. taxpayer dollars to immigration enforcement agencies (more than $21 billion now) than all other enforcement agencies combined, including the FBI, DEA, ATF, US Marshals, and Secret Service. The bulk of this money goes to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). With a budget of $14.4 billion in fiscal year 2018 and more than 59,000 personnel, CBP is the largest law enforcement agency in the country, and more than 85 percent of the agency's Border Patrol agents (i.e., 16,605 of 19,437) are concentrated on the southern border. Trump’s expanded deployment of the military to the border to include active-duty troops could cost between $200 and $300 million in addition to the estimated $182 million for the earlier deployment of National Guard to the border.
Net Unauthorized Migration from Mexico Has Fallen to Zero
A growing Mexican economy, an aging population and dropping fertility rates have led to a dramatic decrease in unauthorized migration from Mexico. In fact, net migration from Mexico is now zero or slightly below (more people leaving than coming).
Total Apprehensions are Low and Manageable
Increases in CBP spending and staffing comes at a time when migrant apprehensions continue to be near an all-time low with only a slight increase from 2017. The combined 521,090 apprehensions for Border Patrol and Customs agents in fiscal year 2018 were 32,288 apprehensions fewer than the 553,378 apprehensions in 2016. For greater perspective on these figures, on average, each of the 19,437 Border Patrol agents nationwide apprehended a total of only 19 migrants in 2018 - that averages fewer than 2 apprehensions per month., In the last few years, an increased proportion of apprehensions are parents seeking to protect their children from the violence and extreme poverty in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. But even with more Central Americans arriving to our southern border seeking protection, total apprehension rates are still at their lowest since the 1970s.
Border Communities are Safe
The southern border region is home to about 15 million people living in border counties in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. These communities, which include cities such as San Diego, Douglas, Las Cruces, and El Paso, are among the safest in the country.
The Dangers of Unchecked Border Enforcement
CBP has extraordinary authority that far exceeds other law enforcement agencies. Under 8 U.S.C. 1357(a) and 8 C.F.R. 287.1, CBP asserts the power to act without a warrant and do any of the following inside the United States without first establishing any suspicion of wrongdoing as is normally required under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution:
- Interrogate anyone to ask for their papers in the U.S.
- Search cars, buses, trains up to 100 miles from border.
- Enter onto private property (but not a dwelling) up to 25 miles from the border.
CBP’s extraordinary authority coupled with extraordinary resources has led to repeated abuse of power, pointing to gaps in agency oversight, accountability and training. Since 2010, CBP agents have killed more than 70 people. No known agents have been brought to justice for these deaths. CBP, however, has one of the highest termination rates for its agents when compared to other federal agencies.
A Better Border Begins with Efficiency & Accountability.
In the 21st century, border residents and travelers should feel safe from corruption and abuse. The rapid buildup of CBP personnel has not been matched with a commensurate investment in oversight such as in sufficient investigators at the CBP Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) to address corruption and abuse within CBP. Accountability could be enhanced by (1) requiring the use of body-worn cameras, with adequate privacy protections, (2) gathering and public reporting of stop and arrest data from checkpoints and during roving patrols, and (3) limiting the “warrantless” authority that CBP uses to undermine 4th amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. CBP oversight and accountability must become a priority.