According to the Pew Hispanic Center, more than 500,000 illegal immigrants enter the country each year, a number that has remained more or less steady in the past decade. Yet during those years, the Clinton and Bush administrations spent more to arrest, detain and deport illegal immigrants. The increased spending also included the construction of bigger and stronger border fences along more than 100 miles of the border in California, Arizona and Texas.
The fences and the added agents didn't stop the thousands of desperate foreign workers from south of the border from getting in. And it certainly didn't stop smugglers from bringing them to eager labor contractors. They found unguarded crossing points, trails and roads, and dug tunnels to enter. It would take thousands of National Guard troops to fill up the 700-mile stretch of mostly open land through which illegal immigrants enter the country. The troops would have to be deployed on the border for longer than a few months to have any real impact on immigration control. Neither Bush nor Congress has said where the money is going to come from to maintain a prolonged troop presence there.
But even if the Bush and Congress bankroll guard troops for months on the border, the number of illegal immigrants who get into the country still wouldn't appreciably drop. That's because up to one-third of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States didn't come across the Mexican border illegally, or even at all. They came in on planes and boats as tourists with student and work visas. They came from Asia, Africa, Caribbean countries, Canada, Ireland, and Eastern Europe, not just Mexico. When their visas expired they simply stayed.
An impregnable brick and mortar border wall, space age sensors and more border agents and National Guard troops wouldn't have stopped the 19 hijackers who rammed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11 from getting into the country. They all came here on State Department-issued visas, and contrary to Republicans who say tough border security would stop terrorists from getting in, 13 of them did not break the law by overstaying those visas.
The millions of others that enter the United States legally or illegally come to work and escape poverty in their countries. Businesses, trade and manufacturing associations put out the welcome mat. They openly boast that they will continue to hire undocumented workers. They also make veiled threats that their industries, indeed the economy, would collapse if they didn't hire them.
Despite the recent showy raids Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement made on a few employers, there is still no evidence that federal officials will mount a massive crackdown on employers who hire illegal immigrants. The figures point in the opposite direction. In 2004, a grand total of three employers were sanctioned for hiring illegals. That was a steep plunge from five years earlier, when the feds served "intent to fine" notices on more than 400 employers for hiring undocumented workers. Federal officials, in defense, say that they have shifted their focus from fines and raids to criminal prosecutions.
Criminal prosecutions, however, haven't done much to stop the flow either. The issue is still jobs and poverty. Mexican President Vicente Fox has taken much heat for not doing more to improve the economy in Mexico to provide more jobs. In response, he publicly pledged that government and industry in Mexico would create more than a million jobs in the next few years. But with Mexico's continued high population growth, that would be barely a bump on the country's employment chart. The U.S. Agency for International Development would have to radically increase the amount of investment it pumps into Mexico in the next five years to create the millions of new jobs that would keep more workers in the country. The agency has given no public indication that it will spend those added billions.
Bush's tough talk on border security might cool some of the anger of conservatives, but it's a fool's paradise measure that won't put a dent in the illegal immigrant problem. And Congress shouldn't con itself into thinking that it will.
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May 16, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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