Trump’s border policies would destroy American influence, weaken our defense posture, and create even more crime. The only solution to problems on the border, is to work with our allies.
One of the age old struggles, present since the beginning of human history, is that over territory. Great empires have expanded by conquering it, the blood countless warriors has been shed to protect it, and even today there are a number of places in the world where who controls a given piece of land or ocean is a question which you may get a variety of answers to, depending on who you ask. Thus, borders have always been a contentious issue between disagreeing parties. Whether it be tribes fighting in Iraq, Israel forcibly taking land that the Palestinians originally inhabited, or China claiming international waters as part of its own territory; tensions in many of Earths major hot spots are kept high by disagreements over where to draw an artificial line, as well as who if anyone is allowed to cross it, and for what reasons.
While the United States deals with these issues through involvement in international organizations and treaties, and a tendency to intervene in the affairs of other countries when US interests are threatened, the people of the United States are isolated from being directly impacted by border disputes. The reason is because the United States has enjoyed a period of peace with its neighbors, and has been able to avoid major disputes or escalation of tensions with nearby countries. Trade agreements like NAFTA help ensure that the US has a good relationship with both Canada and Mexico, and the United States-Canada border is the longest undefended international border in the world1. But while borders with our neighbors are not a foreign policy challenge, borders have been extremely divisive in America’s domestic politics.
GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has proposed a number of actions that would reverse much of the progress that has been made with US-Mexico relations. His opposition to trade deals, and his plan to build a wall with the US-Mexico border, have drawn sharp criticism from people who fear that such actions would be harmful to the US interests, including trade and diplomatic relations. Donald Trump’s white supremacist rhetoric has also raised concerns about Trump’s proposed policies having racist motives behind them. Concerns about alienating an entire demographic of the US population have been voiced by several prominent officials and activists.
While not everybody who wants a more secure border is as extreme as Donald Trump, the Republican Party has seemed to make increasing security on the border a priority. Many are not racially motivated, instead expressing concern about issues such as drug cartels, human trafficking, and other crime known to take place in the region. While Donald Trump’s generalizations about Hispanics are based in ignorance and racism, violence and crime along the southern border is a legitimate security issue. Mexico is a country that suffers from unusually high amounts of drug related violence, and the situation is far from under control despite efforts from the governments of both the United States and Mexico to deal with it. While progress has been made in some areas, the problem has gotten worse in others. There have been at least 80,000 homicides linked to organized crime in Mexico since 20062. Despite the fact that the homicide rate has decreased, other forms of violent crime have increased. Organized crime groups have diversified their criminal activity, turning to extortion, auto theft, kidnapping, and other illicit enterprises2.
Canada is often overlooked, but is subject to discussion about some of the same concerns. The Obama administrations National Northern Border Counternarcotics Strategy has focused on working with our northern neighbor to address the flow of illegal drugs across the US-Canada border and related criminal activity. Due to the fact that proposals to tighten restrictions on the US-Canada border are less prevalent and less extreme, discussion about Canada will center more around their role as a military and economic ally, though some arguments about Mexico may be non-unique to the country and thus potentially apply to Canada as well.
While there are a number of ways this problem could be approached, with liberals, conservatives, and moderates each bound to have their own take, one thing is certain. This is a lot more complicated than border security. Challenges presented by activities occurring on our borders cannot be tackled with oversimplified and racist policymaking. Lawmakers need to look at the big picture. The ultimate goal is to achieve a balance between border security and cooperation with our neighbors. A solution must be reached that tackles illicit activities, without alienating our allies, or inhibiting trade. To be effective, such a plan must also make it easier for people to immigrate into the United States legally. In this paper, we will examine a number of key factors that will play a major role in this decision making process, emphasizing at times how dangerous the specific policy actions proposed by Donald Trump really are. This will be divided into two main areas of analysis. First, it is essential to recognize the risk to United States interests presented by the far right’s proposals. This will be examined from both a national security standpoint and a crime fighting standpoint. Second, we will present two possible methods of resolving border challenges and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each one, and come to a conclusion that defines what circumstances would call for each method.
Border Policy and National Security:
The benefits provided by a friendly relationship with our neighbors have been overlooked by Trump and other far right politicians, and have been taken for granted by the American public. Contrary to what Trump seems to believe, Mexico is not our enemy, quite the opposite actually. There are significant strategic benefits that the United States reaps from peaceful relations with its neighbors.
America’s ability to remain a military superpower, projecting force, intervening in conflicts, and deploying assets around the world is owed at least in part to the current state of affairs with Mexico and Canada. This is because not having to worry about potential military engagements on the border provides us with the operational flexibility to divert resources towards managing conflicts in other parts of the world. This is a luxury that many countries do not have. There are several formidable military powers whose options are limited, and operating space confined, because of a necessity to be ready at a moment’s notice to respond to aggression from bordering nations. Countries like Israel, Pakistan, India, and even China have largely based their military strategy around repelling an attack from one or more nearby hostile actors.
Pakistan is the first example we will be focusing on. It is common knowledge that India and Pakistan have had tense relations for a very long time. The two countries have fought several wars and animosity between them continues to this day. Although India and Pakistan becoming nuclear states has deterred conventional confrontation, relations are still tense, and analyzing Pakistan’s nuclear strategy is actually the component that gives the most insight into how they are affected by the relationship with their neighbor.
Pakistan’s nuclear strategy is heavily influenced by the behavior of, and perceived threats from, India. One of Pakistan’s primary goals has been to outcompete India in the nuclear realm. Islamabad operates four plutonium production reactors, and has the capability to produce 20 nuclear warheads each year4. To put this in perspective, Pakistan has the world’s fastest growing nuclear weapons program, with a stockpile set to exceed that of Great Britain in a decade, and possibly even France shortly after that7. But Pakistan’s nuclear ambitions are something that may come at the cost of other goals. Pakistan’s insistence that they continue producing weapons and modernizing their arsenal could pose a challenge for economic development due to the number of resources required, and making leaps and bounds in nuclear capabilities runs contrary to established non-proliferation norms. Former US Policymaker Michael Krepon, who worked on nuclear issues in South Asia stated, “Pakistan wants to be viewed as a normal nuclear state. But it’s not normal for an economically weak state to make 20 nuclear weapons a year”.4
Despite these challenges, Pakistan’s current behavior continues because of their quest for an absolute nuclear advantage over India. Pakistan has pursued a policy of full-spectrum deterrence (as opposed to strategic deterrence)4. Pakistan also refuses to agree to any further arms limitations unless India does so first4.
Pakistan is in a very vulnerable position to be attacked by India. Two important reasons are their gap in military capabilities and the vulnerability of key infrastructure. Between India and Pakistan, Pakistan finds itself at a disadvantage in terms of both conventional and nuclear assets5. With India’s more powerful military, Pakistan seeks to achieve two objectives. One, deter use of nuclear weapons by India through closing the gap in nuclear capabilities, something they are achieving through outpacing India’s fissile material production capacity, the other, is to offset conventional disadvantages.
To prevent itself from being susceptible to an Indian nuclear attack, Pakistan wants to ensure that effective retaliation is an option, and in a way it may be their only option, at least for the time being. Pakistan lacks many modern capabilities possessed by countries like the United States and Russia, such as early warning systems and real time survallence5. While India lacks some of these capabilities as well, defensive capabilities would be of less importance for them if they were able to strike first. Furthermore, there are concerns about India pursuing further nuclear capabilities as a result of nuclear cooperation with the United States5. India also has intentions to acquire ballistic missile defense5 which would further dilute the effectiveness of Pakistani weapons systems. Pakistani military leaders are worried about India’s interest in acquiring a nuclear triad, something that would give them a disproportionate advantage over Pakistan if their capabilities do not evolve adequately. Thus Pakistan is weary of letting their guard down for the sake of pleasing nuclear non-proliferation advocates, and is uncomfortable with accepting the bare minimum deterrent. They view India as a threat to their existence, and this will not change unless significant progress is made in normalizing relations and de-escalating tension between the two countries. This is largely responsible for Pakistan’s refusal to adopt a no-first use policy. Nuclear weapons also provide a more cost effective alternative to matching an enemy’s numbers of tanks, troops, planes, and warships. Countries who face a conventional disadvantage, whether real or perceived, often acquire nuclear weapons or increase their nuclear capabilities, in order to improve their defense posture in situations where an increase in conventional capability would be either inadequate or not feasible due to cost6. This is the reality that Pakistan faces with India, and the danger goes beyond just superior Indian military capabilities. India’s aggressive conventional war doctrine known as the “cold-start doctrine”5 lowers the threshold for armed conflict to occur.
Pakistan’s geographic situation is an equally important factor. A lot of strategic infrastructure is located close the Pakistan-India border. Some of Pakistan’s most politically important cities, and communication arteries lie very close to India5, meaning that if Pakistan is not sufficiently prepared to deal with aggression, India could easily take out important targets early in the conflict, crippling Pakistan’s ability effectively defend themselves let alone counter attack, with nuclear weapons or otherwise. Pakistan does not have the luxury of being able to trade space for time in the event of an attack by India. This further explains Pakistan’s refusal to adopt a no-first use policy, and creates a situation where securing borders from military attack is essential for their defense strategy.
So what does this have to do with the US-Mexico or US-Canada border? The answer, is that it is an example of how hostile relations with border nations, and a need to respond immediately to threats from them, are a detriment to a nation’s broader ambitions. Pakistan is in a position where other interests are in jeopardy because of a hostile neighbor on the other side of one of the border. Letting their guard down could be disastrous for them assuming that the status quo in India-Pakistan relations endures. With so many resources diverted to countering India’s military capabilities and aggressive military stance, it is difficult if not impossible for Pakistan to pursue regional hegemony, compliance with international nuclear treaties, or more rapid development towards peaceful interests. This is precisely the type of situation that the United States avoids by maintaining good relations with Mexico and Canada. We can orient our conventional military strategy and nuclear deterrence doctrine towards countering a very broad range of threats. The United States has no need for a Mexico centric or Canada centric defense posture, rather quite the opposite is true, they are countries whom we incorporate in our defensive strategies, and can count on to side with us in the event of a conflict with a nation such as China or Russia. This also gives the United States more flexibility in complying with any current or future treaties restricting the number of short ranged ballistic missiles, and prevents us from having to amass troops on the border with either country. US military hegemony is furthered by our ability to focus on global threats, and hegemony in other areas is preserved by a greater degree of flexibility to pursue peaceful goals. In the event of an attack, nuclear or otherwise, by a legitimate adversary such as Russia or China, the United States can worry less about the vulnerability of military and industrial facilities near the borders.
Ruining the relationship with Canada and Mexico may meet the demands of certain groups of voters, but the broader impacts on national security would be devastating. Ironically, the methods of implementing border security proposed by politicians like Donald Trump would make us more insecure, as would ending NAFTA. Acting overly militaristic about the border would alienate Mexico, and would send the same negative message to Canada. The US Department of State explains in detail the extensive cooperation between the US and Mexico in the border region12, and a shutdown of the relatively open border would make continued cooperation on the same level it exists today difficult. Of course, racial bias seems to make Mexico subject of more antagonistic talk, but both countries come into play in any situation like this. Anti-immigrant and anti-free trade policies proposed by Trump, as well as similar plans put forth by other far right leaders and even some from other ideologies, would strip the United States of key military advantages.
This is in large part due to how reliant Canada and Mexico are on the United States. The United States is both Mexico’s and Canada’s largest trade partner8&9. That being said, a US decision to bring economic harms to Mexico and/or Canada would have a substantial impact, and force them to seek other trade partners while scrambling to do damage control in the aftermath of the following recession. It is in this that the problem lies, magnifying the already major problems in the relationship that would be created if a policy of coercion and hostility towards these countries were to be enacted.
Donald Trump is infamous for refusing to explain the details of his plans. But one thing he eventually did talk about is about how he would force Mexico to pay for the wall. His method, ending transfer payments until Mexico agreed to take on funding this massive construction project10. This would deprive Mexico of a vital stream of cash flow, something that many economists say is an essential source of money that has helped them keep their economy afloat10. Cutting this off would throw Mexico into a very tough economic situation. But Mexico is not going to want to pay for the wall, so the only foreseeable outcome would be a rocky period in relations between the two countries.
If NAFTA is ended, and protectionist policies are implemented across the board, Mexico would experience even more economic hardship, as would Canada. When NAFTA was implemented, it encouraged more than a tripling in regional trade and cross border investment, integrating the economies of the three participating nations in a way not seen before11. For example, Mexico has seen significant growth in farm exports to the United States and Canada has benefited from increased American investment. Tearing this trade agreement apart would reverse much if not all of those gains.
These two things would combine to form the perfect storm for a US foreign relations and national security nightmare because it would place both countries, especially Mexico, in a position where they are susceptible to increased foreign influence by American adversaries like Russia and China. A hit to their economy, combined with the poor relations, would make them much less reluctant to look for another, alternative superpower backer to the United States. China especially, would likely pounce on this opportunity. Essentially, protectionist and antagonistic policies against our neighbors would create a sort of economic vacuum and cause them to lose trust in US partnership. China, meanwhile, is seeking to expand its influence over, and participation in, the economies of other countries.
America’s adversaries have proven adept at filling economic vacuums. China especially has used this to their advantage, and Russia has fast-tracked efforts to find alternative trade partners as a result of US sanctions, as well as to expand their own economic influence. China’s actions in developing countries displays a worrying image of how China has exploited situations where US economic involvement has been inefficient, insufficient in scale, nonexistent altogether, or otherwise ineffective. A perfect example of this is how China has engaged with various African countries, using investment in developing economies to further their influence and economic ambitions. China’s trade with Africa grew by 700% in the 1990’s, and they are currently the African continents largest trading partner13. But China does this using a method that has been called a new form of colonialism which has deprived these nations of much of their resource wealth. China builds mining infrastructure owned by Chinese companies in African nations, in exchange for loans13. Chinese companies are often granted exclusive access to large swaths of resource rich land, disproportionately benefiting the Chinese in relative to the local people. Desperate circumstances in poor countries often cause them to accept an agreement that in the long term will only lead them down a path of exploitation. But one of the driving factors behind this is what has caused them to turn away from countries like the United States. Those who defend Chinese action in this part of the world may point to its productiveness in bringing some development to the region as evidence that Chinese power has been beneficial. In contrast, United States programs have been pretty ineffective. Foreign aid to poor nations has been part of US policy for a long time, but a lot of the problems it was intended to fix still persist in these countries14. A CATO Institute Article called US foreign aid the “opiate of the Third World”, accusing it of encouraging undeveloped and developing countries to rely on handouts.
Adversarial border policies and an end of relation building agreements like NAFTA would create both the desperation and the distain of US solutions that exist as a result of American policy failures in Africa, creating another situation that China could exploit. It could be argued that close cooperation between the United States and Mexico is the only thing standing in the way of China asserting strong economic influence over Mexico, as China has already taken steps to invest in Mexico21.
Russia is also hard at work expanding their economic influence. Though Russia is not nearly as adversarial toward the United States as China, US hostility towards them in the form of scapegoating and sanctions has caused relations to deteriorate to their worst point since the cold war. Russia’s resurgence as a major power, and increasingly militaristic behavior under Vladimir Putin, have also contributed significantly to these challenges. One of the most well-known examples is Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine. Unlike China, negotiations might actually get somewhere if the United States can avoid being perceived as hypocritical, especially considering the damage sanctions have done to the Russian economy. Nonetheless, as things currently are the US does need to watch Russian influence carefully. In response to sanctions, Russia has been expanding its trade ambitions around the world. This progress has included a 20% growth in trade between Russia and ASEAN nations15. Russia has shown interest in free trade with several new partners. These include Egypt16, Israel17, and Hong Kong18. As a result, it is also conceivable that Russia could view Canada and Mexico as new markets, and if the United States puts itself in a position of reduced influence, our neighbors may be less willing to support US positions on disagreements involving Russia. This would present an enticing opportunity for Russia to move in. Of course, Russia’s method of establishing economic ties is more conventional than China’s. However, trade can still lead to other forms of cooperation (such as military), and even if it does not the United States would still have to worry about diminished power over world markets.
These events would not just weaken our own defense posture, but would also strengthen China and Russia relative to the United States. This may seem like an obvious statement but one of the ways in which it would occur is easy to overlook. China and/or Russia could turn the tables on the United States as far as who has the advantage of operational flexibility. As the United States becomes increasingly worried about its borders, they would enhance their ability to manage theirs.
One of the limiting factors in the ability of Russia and China to challenge the United States is precisely the fact that they have had to deal with turmoil on their own borders which has gobbled up resources and prevented their militaries from mustering the strength to act on the same scale and scope as the United States. Russia’s economic woes have combined with conflict in Syria and Ukraine to create a situation where Russia’s resources are stretched thin. But China is in a situation somewhat similar to that discussed with Pakistan, in the sense that their defense posture is largely centered on countering bordering actors. There are differences, one of which is the fact that conventional military capabilities are the main aspect of this situation. But the impact on China’s ability to act is similar.
Despite China’s international ambitions, defense of the “frontier regions” remains a core mission. China deals with both internal turmoil and proximity to countries where hostile factions operate. This mission holds back China’s ambitions, and limits their ability to mobilize forces to accomplish other objectives. Half of the PLA (People’s Liberation Army) ground forces are involved in frontier defense19. China has fought over contested land with India and Russia in the past, and there are concerns about ethnic unrest in China and its links too external threats19. The sheer length of the border further complicates the Chinese military’s mission as deciding how many forces to deploy in different areas is a careful balancing act19. With economic woes caused by sanctions and low oil prices, Russia is in over its head with the conflict in Ukraine and Syria. Vladimir Putin’s decision to withdraw forces from Syria, as well as pressure to reduce the defense budget, are signs of this20.
Regarding China, it is interesting to note that this is an example of how racially motivated policies could lead to border tension and conflict even if no wall is built and diplomatic/economic relations remain more or less as they currently are. China, like many authoritarian regimes, has a history of oppressing certain minority groups with views contrary to what the government deems to be acceptable. One example is with the people of the Xinjiang province. They, along with other minorities, have been victims of unfair practices on part of the Chinese government. This is something that has been pointed out in criticism of some of China’s counterterrorism policies22. In turn, the hostility that this creates is responsible for some of China’s national security woes. Some of the people in these regions have attempted to gain independence in the past19. They also enjoyed considerably more autonomy before becoming part of China19. These groups are particularly susceptible to influence from external nations and organizations. Part of this has to do with their location19, but it is not a stretch to say that the other part of the problem is that China’s hostile policies cause a sense of ethnic identity that is far stronger than any national identity of Chinese. Criticism of China’s counterterrorism policy has elaborated on this as well, as it has been argued by some of China’s counterterrorism partners that this tendency to engage in heavy handed crackdowns and tyrannical abuses of government power allows terrorist organizations to exploit negative views of the Chinese government to promote their agenda. If the United States engages in mass deportation, it runs the risk of facing a similar situation, where ethnic, racial, and religious factions outside with United States will be able to create turmoil within our borders by exploiting resentment of US government policies.
Adversarial border policies, and domestic crackdowns based on racial bias would lead the United States in to a quagmire. With access to new foreign markets in Russia’s case, and expanded influence compared to the US in China’s, these countries would be able to more easily gather resources to manage simultaneous conflicts, reduce the impact of American and European sanctions, and modernize military technology to a sufficient degree as to reduce the number of forces required for a given mission. But America would be faced with problems that it previously did not have. This is part of a recipe for American decline. Not only would it present an opportunity for Russia and China to achieve their dreams of becoming global powerhouses, but it would hinder America’s ability to remain the dominant power in its own hemisphere and on its own continent. This creates a lot of irony in Trump’s campaign slogan “make America great again”, because in reality, all we would be doing it allowing China to reach its goal of full superpower status, and Russia to enjoy an amount of influence it has not had since the days of the USSR. None of this is surprising however, as one would imagine that a man who admires Putin as much as Trump does would be more than happy to do Russia’s bidding.
Preventing Criminal Activity:
The United States government has a responsibility not only to protect and preserve its influence around the world, but also to protect its citizens from criminal activity. This is another challenge present on the border, and has been the focus of much of the media coverage on the issue. The big question that everyone is asking is how can we reduce drug related violence, and prevent dangerous criminals from entering the United States?
These are the questions that the Trump campaign has attempted to answer with calls to build a wall and xenophobic rhetoric. Border security is often touted by right wing leaders as a necessary measure to prevent unwanted individuals from entering the United States. However, when looking deeper into the situation such action is actually counterproductive without equally dramatic changes in immigration policy. A failure to effectively reform existing immigration laws to work cohesively with border security measures will prevent any effort to secure the border from being effective.
Now this does not mean that border security is always an inherently bad thing. Law enforcement is necessary to combat crime, which exists to some degree everywhere, on both sides of both US borders. But viewing border security and immigration reform as mutually exclusive is a mentality that actually enables the criminal groups we are trying to combat to thrive.
One of the issues that is of the greatest concern when it comes to fighting crime on the border in the drug trade. Much of the drug trade and the violence surrounding it is a result of organized crime, powerful drug cartels that resort to extortion, theft, murder, kidnapping, and other serious crimes to protect their business interests. But the illegal business activates that these drug cartels engage in extends far beyond selling drugs. They have expanded their activities to a number of other areas. Two such areas are human trafficking and human smuggling, which despite being two distinct things in theory can blend considering the nature of these criminal organizations. Current border policy already contributes to this issue, and Trump’s proposed policies will almost without a doubt, fuel the human trafficking industry. Even a less extreme version of an increase in border security, something more feasible and less harmful to relations with Mexico than a wall, will still be ineffective without major reform in the area of immigration policy.
One of the reasons that the human smuggling industry is alive and well is because of the fact that entering the US legally is confusing and time consuming. There are certain limits on the number of immigrants accepted, and there are specific categories people must fall into to legally enter the United States. Some of these include reasons which are family based, employment based, part of diversity, or refugees/asylum seekers.23 Some countries may also have a ceiling on the number of people who come from one country.23. Becoming a US citizen takes a very long time, several years in most cases24 (Note: this is the total time it takes for a foreigner to become an American, and thus includes time it takes to obtain legal entry. Time to get citizenship alone can be less.) The complicated and confusing immigration regulations act as a deterrent to legal entry. Combined with the high hopes of a better life in the US, they make illegal entry more attractive in comparison despite its risks, due to cost benefit analysis by people in desperate economic situations in the countries they come from, whether it be Mexico or otherwise. A migrant named Dagoberto from Honduras once said “When you know the kind of life you can have in the US, it’s worth risking your life to obtain it”25 It is exactly this mentality that human smugglers prey upon.
Increased border control in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks had a paradoxical effect, in the sense that it exacerbated the problem of people entering the United States with the assistance of human smugglers, often referred to as “coyotes”.26. While some follow a more traditional business model revolving around getting their customers to their destination safely, there are others of resort to force and coercion to exploit the vulnerable position that these migrants are in26. Some people are even exploited sexually.26. It is also not uncommon for participation in the flow of drugs to be a method of entering the United States. A reliance on illegal methods of crossing the border has allowed criminal organizations to exert a great deal of control over who leaves certain areas. These organizations often kill migrants at will when they attempt to cross the border without paying fees25. A way around these fees for some is to serve as a drug mule.25.
By taking a hardline stance on border policy, refusing to create a situation more favorable for legal immigration while reinforcing the border will only increase reliance on criminal organizations. In pursuing this course of action, the United States contributes both to human rights abuses, and to a source of revenue for criminal organizations who have taken advantage of the lucrative opportunity created by the desperation of migrants. Trump’s xenophobic mentality towards immigration would only make this worse if it were turned into policy. The only way to reduce or eliminate this aspect of criminal activity is to create an environment where migrants are not forced to depend on criminal organizations for a path into the United States. The harder it is to enter the country legally relative to legal routes of entry, the more likely those seeking to enter from other countries will turn to criminal activity to get in.
Law enforcement is not just something that takes place on the American side of the border. Negative effects of border policies perceived as hostile by our neighbors would have harmful effects on the effectiveness of bilateral law enforcement efforts. Sharing information and collaborating in law enforcement efforts is necessary to take down multinational criminal organizations. This is something that previous administrations have recognized. The United States has assisted Mexico in accessing the training and equipment required to be effective in efforts to control crime27. This is not to say that the Mexican government’s efforts have been perfect. There are concerns about their level of capability, as well as corruption and brutal law enforcement tactics27. But these are issues that can be solved through reform and reducing the influence of criminal groups. It is hard to deny Mexico’s importance in fighting crime.
This is why a program known as the Merida initiative has been implemented. There is much debate over whether the “war on drugs” was successful. But regardless of whether or not strategy has been effective, Mexico has been on our side. Under the Merida initiative Mexico received $2.5 Billion from the US in funds for the initiative between FY 2007 and 201528. However, they also allocated $79 Billion of their own resources to security and public safety. While Mexico’s efforts have not been perfect, they have attempted to comply with international standards regarding torture and enforced disappearances28. US assistance has been a key factor in pushing Mexico to improve its justice system29.
It is certain that building walls and not bridges will be a massive setback for efforts to get problems with organized crime under control. America cannot function alone is its struggle against multinational criminal organizations. Cooperation with other countries where these organizations operate allows the US to take the measures that ensure that these countries don’t become safe havens for drug and human traffickers. It is equally important to use cooperation with these countries as a way of gathering information and taking action on potential hazards to the American public before they can rear their heads on our side of the border. The United States must avoid attempting to solve problems while in isolation, the interconnectedness of the world renders this thinking obsolete.
Taking Action – What can be done to tackle the border management challenges of the 21st century?
The problems with the proposals brought forth by Donald Trump, as well as the mentality in general promoted and/or reflected in such policies, have been discussed in depth. Not only is being hostile towards our neighbors a counterproductive policy in terms of stopping crime, it is also a threat to our standing on the world stage. When it comes to some of the motives behind singling out Mexico, and calls to deport undocumented workers already in the United States, it is obvious how racism is something that is extremely dangerous. But talking about problems is useless unless solutions can be formulated. Obviously the fact that border policy is a debate to begin with suggests that there is room for improvement. America’s borders still present challenges which cannot be ignored. There are two possible courses of action that can be taken. For the purposes of this discussion, they will be referred to as the “liberal plan” and the “conservative plan”. Both of these plans have great potential, and which is better may end up depending in part on factors outside of United States control. The American people will have to choose an effective course of action which addresses problems both in the status quo and in isolationist counterproposals proposals. One such method, what will be referred to as the “liberal plan”, is open borders.
If this sounds extreme or unrealistic, consider this. For the 1st 100 years of this country’s existence, there were virtually no immigration restrictions33. There were of course periods of time in our nation’s history where immigrants were excluded or oppressed in various ways. Irish immigrants faced discrimination, and for some time Chinese people were not welcome. But overall, generally speaking, restrictions on who enters the country are stricter now then they have ever been. Such an approach is not obsolete in the modern world. The EU has already implemented something known as the “Schengen Agreement” which has allowed citizens of participating countries to lawfully move across borders mostly unrestricted.
It is reasonable to ask questions about whether welcoming back open borders is really the answer but because of the adverse effect that current border controls have had on illegal human smuggling/human trafficking, how we approach the issue needs to be re-examined. It just might be time to go back to the drawing board, and more open borders would give us that fresh start. Open borders would be an excellent step towards combating efforts by criminal organizations to profit from human smuggling, and by extension would also help deal with human trafficking. If the US and its neighbors adopted a policy to allow people to move freely across borders it would eliminate the need for people to resort to risky methods of entering the country. Criminal organizations would no longer be able to rely on demand for this service, depriving them of a large source of funding. This in turn would reduce the capacity of criminal organizations to operate as effectively as they do. It would also aid in dealing with the problem of human trafficking, as taking advantage of the vulnerable positions that migrants are often in is one of the paths leading people into human trafficking. A counter argument to this, at least in the long term, could be the ability of criminal organizations to adapt and shift to other illicit activities. However, the benefits of open borders go beyond stopping a single form of criminal activity, or tackling short term problems based on how criminal organizations currently operate. Open borders would allow the United States law enforcement agencies to make more effective use of funds that currently are diverted to border security. The government currently spends $18 Billion on stopping immigration, more than all other Federal criminal enforcement agencies combined33. But the effectiveness of this spending has been limited by the fact that we are often going after the wrong people, hard-working migrants, not dangerous criminals. Contrary to what many seem to believe, immigrants actually commit less crime on average than people native to our side of the border33. The money is largely spent to stop the free exchange of money for labor33. This runs contrary to the perception created by leaders like Trump that criminals are coming across our border in large numbers.
Working to keep out all undocumented immigrants seeks to solve the problem by painting with an overly broad brush, stretching funds by utilizing them to prosecute people who are not dangerous. By opening the border and using this money to take a more targeted approach to tacking cross-border crime, tracking down members of dangerous criminal organizations rather than going after every migrant worker we can find, taxpayer dollars will be spent more efficiently. Rather than building a wall, we would be better served by ensuring that law enforcement agencies are properly funded, trained, and equipped. Law enforcement in and around border towns should focus on patrolling areas known to be hotspots for criminal activity.
Humanitarian interests would also be protected by an open border policy. The current system for accepting people based on refugee status is broken. One of the most pressing concerns regarding migrants wishing to gain access to the United States is the number of them who are refugees. Many migrants face conditions in their home countries that are akin to warzones, but the United States does nothing, even contributing to the problem. The United States has in the recent past even payed Mexico to crack down on asylum seekers and prevent them from reaching the United States34. This resulted in migrants being sent back to where they came from to again face the violence they first attempted to flee. The process of applying for a visa as a refugee is a major roadblock as well, with wait times tending to be very long34. An open border would make it easier for people to escape violence and poverty in their home countries. This would reduce the death toll in areas impacted heavily by criminal organizations.
An open border would enhance the competitiveness of the United States economy as well. First and foremost, immigrants who come to the United States buy things while they are here. Food, fuel, a place to live. When they spend they increase demand for the goods and services produced by US businesses, resulting in them making more money, which allows them to expand their operations and hire more workers. This is only one of many benefits people from foreign countries entering the United States can bring.
The US already has free trade with its neighbors. Expanding this policy to allow labor to move across borders would enable the United States to attract foreign talent from places where it would otherwise be underutilized. Refugees who face hopeless conditions in their home countries would be able to come to the United States for opportunity, and in doing so they would bring their skills, talents, and innovation. Statistics on current immigration patterns already support this conclusion. Over half of US startups worth $1 Billion or more were started by immigrants32. In other words, America is has already gained from, and is partially dependent on, immigration to remain a major producer of successful, innovative startups. Policies that continue or better yet accelerate this trend would ensure our ability to remain a technological and economic powerhouse in the future. Creating better medicine, deadlier weapons systems, more fuel efficient cars, and faster trains can only be done if the United States seeks to attract the best and brightest from around the world. Whether it be a cure for cancer or a new ballistic missile, American needs the best and brightest minds it can find if it wants these things. Whether those people are born here or not does not matter, talent is talent, manpower is manpower. If the United States does not accept these people, what is to stop them from trying to go somewhere else, say Russia or China, and using their talents there? This does not just apply to people seeking a better life permanently in the US, it also applies to the ability of US businesses to boost manpower by hiring people from across the border, and to access more competitively priced services on the other side of the border, assuming they are located close enough. The benefits of this have been seen in the EU, examples including people commuting to a different country to work, or a Hotel in east Germany having their sheets washed in Poland30.
This automatically brings up the question of how the US job market will be affected. The effects are likely to be positive. While some may assert that US jobs will be lost by allowing foreign workers into the country, this is only a valid argument based on the current model, where undocumented workers are not subject to minimum wage regulations. However, with open borders the US could easily enact reforms to bring these people under the protection of labor laws applicable to US citizens. This would not only ensure that American workers are on a level playing field with their foreign born counterparts, but also that immigrants would have more social mobility, more spending power, and thus would be able to contribute more productively to the US GDP in the form of purchasing goods they otherwise could not afford.
An open border would be a step in the right direction for the United States, and would arguably be the best course of action. But this is a plan that will have its critics, and would be difficult to push through congress. That being said, an open border is not our only option. A second proposal is immigration reform, coupled with an increase in border security. This is the “conservative plan”
Border security may sound contradictory to the stance taken by this entire paper. But a closer look at the specifics of this policy reveal that this is in fact not the case. All of the harms associated with border security have been rooted in one of two things. Either an overly hostile or unfriendly approach to border security (as in Trump’s proposal to build a wall), or a lack of legal entry alternatives (what we have now). If the biggest problem with the way this country thinks about its border is a refusal to consider opening our borders, then the second biggest is the assumption that border security and immigration reform are mutually exclusive.
If America is really so concerned about cross-border crime that it deems an open-border policy too risky, then immigration reform coupled with border security would be a good option. This is because it would crack down on illegal border crossing, while simultaneously making it easier to cross the border legally. The effect on human smuggling would likely be the same as open borders. The ability of immigrants to enter the United States legally with a straightforward process of getting in would reduce or even eliminate the demand for smuggling services. Making visas easier to obtain, and relaxing limits on the number of immigrants, as well as tackling the issue of long wait times and inefficient bureaucracy, would ensure that hard working foreigners seeking a better life are able to enter the United States if that is what they choose. This policy is also compatible with amnesty for undocumented workers already here. The US can simply focus on deporting people who have committed violent crimes, and allow those who are coming here and not causing any problems to stay.
Compared to open borders this plan would be better in some ways, and worse in others. The economic benefits would not be as profound, but it would likely be more effective at addressing the flow of illegal substances across the border, as those who circumvent legal methods of entry would be faced with a more secure border.
So how do we know what to do? The answer is that the United States needs to make a decision that is both in line with the wished of its voters, and responds well to the security reality in Mexico. The liberal plan of open borders is likely to be the most beneficial approach in terms of humanitarian interests, economic gain for the US and its allies, as well as protecting innocent people from prosecution. However, getting such a plan enacted would likely invoke strong opposition from right leaning voters, and the US may just have to go with the next best option. From a purely political standpoint the conservative plan would be a good way to get something done, as it addresses core demands from both major parties. Democrats want to treat immigrants better; Republicans want a secure border. Why not have both?
Where things get tricky is when looking at Mexico’s side of the border. While the US has cooperated with Mexico, there are challenges regarding the effectiveness of their law enforcement agencies. Mexico is well known to have suffered from corruption, something that makes it difficult for them to operate to their full potential in aiding the US in tackling crime. Efforts to overcome this have repeatedly failed35. If the US is able to further bilateral cooperation in overcoming crime, an open border is probably a good way to go. But if Mexico is unable to enact meaningful reforms the southern border may just need to be secured. In any case, no wall, and immigrants should be allowed in. Perhaps the United States could even enact a hybrid of these two plans, an open border with Canada and a restricted border with Mexico. Only time will tell.
Regardless, we can’t let a candidate who has been praised by white supremacist ideologues get into office. America is better than that, and the problems people in border communities face every day are too complex to be solved with oversimplified policies that are rooted in bigotry. The US needs to revise its approach as to how it handles matters involving our neighbors. But revising our policies does not mean hitting the self-destruct button on critical partnerships, it does not mean mass deportations, and it certainly does not mean being willing to accept the end of one of the things that made America great to begin with. The United States is a multinational, multicultural, multilinguistic melting pot. We are defined by national identity, not racial or ethnic identity. The US was built by immigrants, our legitimacy as the worlds hegemon is established by the melting pot that our society is. Our country is a microcosm of the entire world, where all cultures and peoples are represented. As America marches into the future, it is critical to remember that the reason why we have been able to be so powerful is because anybody can join us. Anyone can embark on this journey, to be a trailblazer, a leader of the entire world, an innovator envied by nations who dare oppose us. If we lose that we are nothing special anymore. America ought to be a benevolent superpower, making friends and not enemies whenever possible. We should welcome other countries to join us in our role as the leading force in the world, making it clear that American hegemony does not mean American exceptionalism, that any country who willingly supports us will share prosperity, and will enjoy the same status as we do. If the United States is to overcome the challenges facing it today, we cannot resort to ignorance and racism. We must use logic, tolerance of all peoples and cultures, and strategic decision making.
- Beittel, June S. “Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations.” (n.d.): n. pag. Print.
- Salik, Naemm. “The Evolution of Pakistan’s Nuclear Doctrine.” N.p., n.d. Web.
- Joshi, Shashank. “Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Nightmare: Déjà Vu?”The Washington Quarterly 3 (2013): 159-72. Web.
- “Securing Borders: China’s Doctrine and Force Structure for Frontier Defense.”The Journal of Strategic Studies 30 (2007): n. pag. Web. 30 Aug. 2016.
- Tanner, Murray Scot, and James Bellacqua. “China’s Response to Terrorism.”S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission(n.d.): n. pag. Web.
- “Six Key Issues in U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation.”Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars(n.d.): n. pag. Web.
- “U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond.”Congressional Research Service(2016): n. pag. Print.
- Policy, National Foundation For American.N F A P P O L I C Y B R I E F(n.d.): n. pag. Web.