Last month, two men were caught on video climbing over the border wall with Mexico and into the United States, carrying with them two large back packs apparently loaded with illegal drugs. The climbers, who were also caught on government surveillance approaching the wall in Mexico before even setting foot on it, easily scaled down into the U.S. within a few yards of not one, but three U.S. Border Patrol vehicles. The Border Patrol officers, although clearly aware of the illegal fence climbers, did nothing. The men re-scaled the wall back into Mexico only after realizing a media crew was filming their escapade.
Such events appear to be “business as usual” at America’s southern border; reflecting a “hands-off” mentality by federal border agents that dramatically undercuts the federal government’s avowed commitment to stop illegal border crossings. It also lays bare the argument that building a wall along our border with Mexico “secures” the border. Clearly it doesn’t; and it will not until Uncle Sam develops the will to stop illegal border crossings.
The ineptitude on display last month brings to mind another botched “border control” operation by this Administration a few years ago — “Operation Fast and Furious” — in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, intentionally allowed firearms to be purchased by known Mexican drug members in the U.S., and then shipped back to Mexico where, in theory, they would be tracked. Due to reasons that can only be attributed — charitably — to bureaucratic incompetence, the guns disappeared; that is, until one showed up at the scene where U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was shot to death.
Tragedies such as Operation Fast and Furious, as well as the Border Patrol’s passive attitude towards stopping flagrant criminal activity, illustrates a problem rooted far deeper than the prima facie absurdity of Obama Administration policies. It reflects a fundamental unwillingness by federal law enforcement agencies to do their job. The question is not are we lacking a high-enough wall, but do we lack the will.
The worsening problems at the border is perhaps the single-most important factor in the rise of Donald Trump as a competitive presidential candidate in 2016. However, though Trump may be the loudest and shrillest voice on border issues, he still, like so many other candidates and office holders, is missing the forest for the trees when it comes to illegal immigration.
Trump and those who share his views on border security focus almost exclusively on the physical aspects of the issue; higher walls, more border patrol agents, and more money. While money, equipment and personnel certainly are important elements of a comprehensive border security program, they are wasted without a true commitment on the part of officials from the President down to agency heads, to actually use those resources to do the job.
The key to “securing the border” lies not in physical security, but in policy security; and without the will to stop illegals from coming in, and until we stop fretting about the risk of “someone getting hurt if our law enforcement officers do their job,” illegals will continue to pour in regardless of the physical obstacles, barriers, and deterrents we place in their way. No number of federal agents assigned to the border, and no amount of blustering from Trump about “growing [the border fence] ten feet higher,” will make a noteworthy difference if we on this side of the wall lack the courage to stop illegals before they ever put their first foot up to climb, or as soon as they touch down on our side.
First, we have to reverse the mixed messages of the Obama Administration to Latin America regarding illegal immigration, and take a strong stand that our borders actually mean something, and that those attempting to enter the country illegally will be sent back, pronto. We must back up this message by ending the absurd “catch and release” programs that kill the morale of Border Patrol agents and continue to demonstrate that we are not serious about stopping illegal immigration. Finally, we must address the economic incentives for illegal immigration by making clear to states and cities that federal funds cannot be used to subsidize pro-illegal immigration agendas of liberal local and state governments. This means Zero Tolerance (and zero federal money) for so-called “Sanctuary Cities.”
To accomplish these things, Republicans must resist the easy route of responding to populist calls for expensive, temporary “fixes,” and focus on the much harder task of reversing Washington’s current attitude towards immigration; replacing it with one that shows we have the courage to protect our borders. In the absence of such a commitment, individuals and government leaders “South of the Border” will continue to laugh at us to our face.