Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Diminishing returns along the border

Arrests of people crossing the border with Mexico have fallen to historic lows. The Washington Post reported on Saturday
The Border Patrol apprehended 327,577 illegal crossers along the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2011, which ended Sept. 30, numbers not seen since Richard Nixon was president, and a precipitous drop from the peak in 2000, when 1.6 million unauthorized migrants were caught. More than 90 percent of the migrants apprehended on the southwest border are Mexican.

...“We have reached the point where the balance between Mexicans moving to the United States and those returning to Mexico is essentially zero,” said Jeffrey Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, whose conclusion was shared by many migration experts.
Yet the Obama administration continues to deploy 1,200 National Guard troops along the border, mostly for show.
President Obama’s decision last year to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border may have been smart politics, but a growing number of skeptics say the deployment is an expensive and inefficient mission that has made little difference in homeland security
The rules of engagement, rightly, limit the role of the National Guard to observation. The net effect, however, is that the troops increase the cost of securing the border by about $110 million per year but have little impact on security itself. The Post story continues
In an August report on the costs and benefits of an increased role for the Defense Department along the U.S.-Mexico border, the Government Accountability Office told Congress that it takes three people to do the job of one: two Guard soldiers to spot an illegal crosser and one federal agent to catch him.
Since 9/11, the United States has greatly strengthened its fence along the border. It has also doubled the number of Border Patrol agents, with predictable effects on border crossings and apprehensions.

At a time when the military is already strained and where the government is looking to save every penny that it can, an ineffective $110 million National Guard "troop surge" along the border seems especially wasteful and a bad return on investment. President Obama should end the deployment at the end of this year and allow the troops to return to their home states and bases.


Doug Clark said...

So we strengthen border security and fewer illegals try to cross the border ... which means we don't need so much border security?

Dave Ribar said...


Yes. We've strengthened border security in lots of ways (hundreds of miles of additional fence, a doubling of Border Patrol agents, better electronic infrastructure).

Additional resources appear to be generating minimal returns, and the National Guard troops (who are only allowed to fulfill a limited role) appear to generate even fewer returns.

With apprehensions now at their lowest levels since the Nixon administration, it seems reasonably safe to try pulling back in this one dimension. The "surge" of National Guard troops was supposed to be a temporary measure. This looks like a good time to transition them out.

If not now, when?

jimcaserta said...

I would imagine that the poor economy & recession made a bigger impact on illegal immigration than putting troops on the border. You would also have to include increased workplace enforcement discouraging immigrants.

A large percentage of illegal immigrants work in construction, and construction is the industry with the highest job loss since 2006. It makes sense that you'd have less immigrants coming to take those nonexistant jobs.

From the WaPo article, apprehensions peaked in 2006, coincidentally with the peaking of housing construction?

My comments are very much like what's in the WaPo article, but I arrived at the conclusions independently.

Dave Ribar said...


The economy certainly played a role, but apprehensions were headed mostly downward over the 2000s. For example, apprehensions fell 50 percent between 2001 and 2004. Also, the "peak" in 2006, was still about a third lower than 2001, despite the housing and construction boom.


It's hard to argue that the presence of National Guard troops did/do much. President Bush stationed the National Guard along the border from July 2006 to July 2008, and President Obama's surge didn't start until July 2010 (the last three months of FY 2010). Despite the absence of troops for two years from the middle of 2008 to the middle of 2010, apprehensions continued to fall.