“We should be working more with the Mexicans”: Former “border czar” shares real
SATURDAY, FEB 18, 2017 02:29 PM CST
“We should be working more with the Mexicans”: Former “border czar” shares real facts about immigration
Alan Bersin says a border wall won’t address the real challenges confronting the U.S. border enforcement system
SEBASTIAN ROTELLA, PROPUBLICA
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When I began as U.S. attorney in San Diego during the Clinton administration in 1993, the border was in fact out of control. Illegal immigration was rampant. The federal government’s reaction, and the efforts of three administrations, gradually changed that. Over that period, the government was spending up to $18 billion a year geared to strengthening the border. We went from 3,000 Border Patrol agents to 22,000 agents today, more than 18,000 of them on the southwest border. There were massive investments in technology, air reconnaissance, sensors. This completely altered the border.
In 1993 and 1994, the Justice Department launched two operations: Hold the Line in El Paso and Gatekeeper in San Diego, the areas where almost all of the illegal crossing was concentrated because it was so easy to cross. The Border Patrol was able to get control of those flows. The strategy had two goals: putting more agents on the line to apprehend people and create a deterrent to crossing, and spreading the traffic out. A critical dimension was the construction of fences and barriers and walls along 700 miles of the 1,900 miles of the border. The type of barrier depended on the terrain. There is triple fencing in San Diego, and significant barriers in places like Nogales and Yuma, Arizona and El Paso and Brownsville, Texas. The idea was to restore the rule of law, to bring order to a chaotic situation. The results became more and more apparent. Crime rates went down in the border region. Today, the number of migrants crossing is at a 30-year low. That’s because of years of bipartisan work on this issue. Has it achieved a complete sealing of the border? No. But it has achieved equilibrium and more effective management. During the last 10 years we have also seen the beginning of joint border management with Mexico. In the course of 25 years, we have developed a constructive relationship with Mexico that was nonexistent before. During the last eight to 10 years there have been continued efforts which have resulted in a strategic alliance with the Mexicans and improved safety and security at the border.
A major contribution has come from the changing nature of migration. People should remember that Mexican migration is now at a net negative. More Mexicans are leaving through deportation and voluntary return than are entering the United States legally and illegally. In part, that’s a result of our efforts on border enforcement. But it’s also because Mexico now has the 13th largest economy in the world. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicts it will have a larger economy than Germany by 2042.
The Mexican people are increasingly middle class, and Mexico has substantially become a middle-class society. This is true despite the significant poverty, and the class and geographic inequality that have deep historical roots. Part of this process of change, as was the case in our own country, involves a difficult battle against organized crime. Nonetheless, Mexico has become a robust democracy with a robust press and an active legislature. It has gone from being a sending country for migrants to a transit country, and increasingly a receiving country for migrants in its own right.
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