October 27, 2007
From the Unintended Consequences Department

Border crackdown leads to more drug smuggling. Quelle irony, no?

As tighter security makes crossing the border trickier and more hazardous, the traditional mom-and-pop operations in Mexico that used to ferry people across have been replaced by larger, more-professional criminal gangs, often with ties to the illegal-drug trade.

U.S. officials are reporting increased violence along the border, including gunfights between rival smuggling gangs, gangs hijacking each others' customers en route to U.S. destinations and the rape or assault of migrants.

Special Agent Alonzo Pena, chief investigator for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Arizona, says as the border gets harder to cross, fees to smugglers have increased from next to nothing to as much as $6,000 a head, making the smuggling business an attractive new market for drug gangs.

"It's one of the unintended consequences of sealing the border," Mr. Pena says.

Border Patrol agents have noticed that smaller-scale smugglers on the Mexican side are being replaced by more-sophisticated ones who appear to have ties to Mexico's cocaine cartels. Smugglers are carrying higher-caliber weapons and sometimes dress in camouflage uniforms and use military tactics to evade capture.

"Drug cartels have more resources," explains Border Patrol agent Martin Hernandez, now in his fifth year monitoring the busy corridor between El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.


The crackdown, together with a slower U.S. economy, has helped stanch the flow of illegal crossers in several ways. The higher risk of getting caught and higher cost of crossing has prompted many illegal workers in the U.S. to stay put rather than return home every year to do things like celebrate Christmas with their families. For those who still want to cross, the higher risk means putting their lives in the hands of more-organized criminal groups with the means to get them through.

Oddly enough, the front page story about a change in policy from catch-and-release to prosecuting illegal border crossers as part of a wider border crackdown didn't make any mention of this side effect. Seems a pretty important omission to me.

Here's a crazy idea. Why don't we, instead of foolishly trying to "seal the border", make it easier to enter the country legally, both for short term visits and long term path-to-citizenship residencies? Seems to me that would greatly reduce the number of illegal crossings for any reason, would satisfy the need for labor while reducing the ability to mistreat immigrant workers (since far fewer of them would be undocumented), and might just restore a teeny bit of our reputation as a shining beacon for the yearning-to-breathe-free masses. Doesn't this make, like, a whole lot more sense than trying to build a useless fence that will do way more harm than good? I'm just saying. Thanks to Grits for the link and its accompanying graphic.

Speaking of the stupid fence, it seems the government can't even pay landowners for access to their property so they can do surveying for it.

Opponents of the fence refused federal workers access to their land last month in South Texas. About the same time, the government offered to pay some property owners $3,000 in exchange for permission to conduct surveys. Congress has authorized $1.2 billion to build 700 miles of fencing.

After many of them balked at the money on principle, the government abandoned the plan.

"I think it's blood money, bribery," said Brownsville Mayor Patricio M. Ahumada Jr.

The proposal to build 370 miles of steel fence is widely opposed in the Rio Grande Valley, the most heavily populated part of the Texas-Mexico border and a region with an economy and culture wed to cross-border traffic.

The payments were being offered in a region where the median family income is about $30,000. But instead of welcoming the windfall, many residents were outraged when federal officials described the plan.

Ahumada, whose border city has already denied fence-planners access to city property, said the payments were insulting and disingenuous.

"The federal government is doing all it can to get access," Ahumada said.


Noel Benavides, a city councilman and business owner in Roma, said the payments would cloud the issue.

"If this was really something that was going to be beneficial to the whole community and the whole nation, I would be the first person to say, 'My friend, you can go in there and do what you need to do,' " Benavides said. "It's going to be a waste of time. It's not going to stop illegal immigrants."


Ahumada said the issue was also a matter of historical and patriotic pride.

"You are talking about land that Texans and Americans shed blood for to keep," he said. "And now they are trying to move the border further north (of the river) than established by treaty."

Yeah, well, forget the Alamo. History isn't what it used to be.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 27, 2007 to National news

Increasing the ease for legal entry probably will lead to increased overstays. 40% of the 12 million undocumented persons in this country overstayed their legal presence.

Posted by: Justin on October 27, 2007 11:13 AM