For Common-Sense Border Security, Look to the River

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A United States Border Patrol vehicle patrols on watch at a border fence along the a South Texas border in the Rio Grande Valley.

Flickr / Donna Burton for U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Technological solutions offer a more effective way to control the Rio Grande than an expensive and intrusive wall.

In 2017, I authored a white paper titled "Common Sense Border Security Solutions," which I have shared with members of Congress, Trump administration officials, and other leaders in the public and private sectors across the country. In it, I presented a plan for addressing border security and immigration that is both sensible and fiscally responsible and serves our national interests.

My perspective is that of someone who has lived and worked for decades only a stone’s throw from the Rio Grande and who is a member of organizations such as the U.S.-Mexico CEO Dialogue and the U.S.-Mexico Economic Council.

Unfortunately, too many people in Washington would rather make decisions based on ideology and politics rather than listen to the folks who are the most knowledgeable and the most affected by these issues at the local level. This approach promotes poor decision making that creates only conflict rather than offering a sensible resolution.

One practical solution I recommend is to clean up the Rio Grande and give U.S. Customs and Border Patrol greater access and visibility. Eradicating nonnative, invasive vegetation, building all-weather roads for easier access to the river, and developing a larger buffer zone between the two countries would make it much harder for both criminals and immigrants to even attempt illegal entry.

Having taken these steps, the area could then be managed much more effectively with technological solutions, such as motion detectors, cameras, and infrared sensors. This approach is a faster, cheaper, and more effective way to patrol and control the river, as opposed to a far more expensive and intrusive wall.

A second solution would be to clear the backlog of cases in immigration court. Once again, there’s a very practical way to accomplish this: hire more immigration judges.

The real problem with border security is not apprehension; rather, it is processing the cases through the U.S. legal system. As immigration enforcement budgets have more than quadrupled over the past five years, funding and staffing for immigration courts have lagged far behind. In addition, detention facilities are costing taxpayers millions of dollars per month.

This money could be better invested in more post-apprehension resources, such as additional immigration courts. Border towns could be staffed with sufficient asylum officers, immigration judges, and consular officers to hear cases and then make final determinations on-site. This is much more efficient than warehousing illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.

Even with these common-sense solutions, the issue of border security cannot be addressed without addressing the need for immigration reform. We need an immigration policy that tackles the United States’ need for workers.

The U.S. requires between 600,000 and 650,000 low-skilled workers every year to keep the economy growing. We simply do not produce that type of worker in the amount we need. That deficit along with the rapid decline in birth rates worldwide, including here in the U.S., make it clear that our economy will suffer due to a lack of human capital without a sensibly reformed immigration policy.

To solve the border security problem, we must look at reasonable and productive solutions that benefit both the U.S. and Mexico, our neighbor and third-largest trading partner. We must develop a border security plan with Mexico that continues to foster economic development and our good neighbor policies that have been in place for generations.

The Trump administration should speak with people who live and do business in border communities here in Texas to find practical solutions for both border security and immigration policy. Doing so will help build broad support for initiatives that are far more effective and far less costly than a border wall and that serve the long-term interests of the U.S.

10 thoughts on “For Common-Sense Border Security, Look to the River

    • To GJS: Do you ever buy vegetables (fresh, canned or frozen) at HEB? If so, ever wonder how those vegetables got from the farm to your plate? We need those workers to keep our CROPS growing. Try “growing the economy” without good food.
      Oh, and those 600K workers pay the same taxes you do.
      Now what is it exactly you are concerned about?

  1. Most of those workers don’t pay taxes. They are paid in cash under the table. So no taxes are collected from them. But they do use our emergency rooms and schools. I know this because in my job we would have illegal immigrant clients and they were very nonchalant in admitting all of this to me. Why do you think that corporate America wants cheap labor here? The economy is going to crash soon. And middle class liberals are arrogant enough to believe that their white collar professional jobs will be safe from the coming economic crash. They are in for a surprise.

  2. Many do pay the same taxes. Many apply for and obtain tax identification numbers from the IRS in order to file tax returns with the IRS.
    Recent articles about “the fence” have noted that some conservative groups now recommend that universal E-Verify is a more effective way to deal with people coming to the US to work who lack work authorization. This puts the onus on the employers that employ undocumented workers–if there are both universal E-Verify and effective enforcement of employer sanctions. E-Verify is already in existence–albeit not now due to the government shutdown.

    Nixon is correct that there need to be immigration law changes that allow employers to bring unskilled and skilled workers into the US in the H2A (ag workers) and H2B (skilled/unskilled workers) programs. The number of the latter for new H2B visas is capped each year–for FY2017 the number was increased to 64,716 and was based on there being about that number of returning H2B visa holders–ones for whom employers had filed for renewals. Many of these are seasonal workers including landscape workers who are not considered to be ag workers.

    IF an employer is failing to withhold taxes for ag workers or for H2B workers, that is the employer that is violating the law. The existing employer sanction laws are very clear that an employer cannot get around those laws by calling workers independent contractors. In order to enforce the law and protect US workers, Congress would need to allocate more funds to the Labor Department for enforcement–and to the IRS.

    There are no easy answers to immigration. Nixon’s suggested approaches are very cost effective and enforcement effective ones that Congress and the executive branch should not ignore. Recently Dan Patrick offered President Trump help from Texas to “build the wall.” Ideally Nixon will present his suggestions to Patrick and perhaps Texas could initiate some to the steps that he recommends such as eradication of nonnative invasive plants on the US side of the Rio Grande and all weather roads to the river.

  3. What a terrific article, very reasoned and sensible. Those in Washington, D. C. do seem to have opinions, without full knowledge of the situation.
    Thank you for this article and I hope the folks who make the rules, read this and craft a workable, humanitarian, economic, and viable long term solution.

  4. Thanks for this well-thought-out essay. The need for temporary migrant farm workers has been around for a while. A reasonable solution was the bracero program in the US. Unfortunately, some growers abused the braceros, and Cesar Chavez destroyed that program while correcting the abuse.

    Canadian farmers on Prince Edward Island fly in temporary workers in what I believe is a successful program.

  5. Dennis, what’s “common” sense to you may not be common sense for another. For myself, it was “common” sense not to support an individual for president who blatantly lied when he first spoke announcing his presidency. You on the other hand I suppose believed it was sensible even after he continued to lie. I am least glad you are attempting to be reasonable with your analogy. Peoples experiences and exposure are shape their “common” senses.

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