Ground views of different Border Wall Prototypes in California in 2017.

Ground views of different Border Wall Prototypes in California in 2017. Mani Albrecht/CBP file photo

Analysis: $5 Billion Could Buy a Lot of Border Security

Fixing the asylum system, upgrading ports of entry, and tightening security checkpoints might do more to advance Trump’s goals than a wall.

As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump pledged to reduce illegal immigration from Central America, and since taking office he has paired that vow with professed concerns about not just the flow of asylum seekers into the United States, but the smuggling of drugs and the potential entry of terrorists, too. That, in his telling, is why he wants $5 billion from Congress for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

But what if there were other—better—ways of achieving the president’s goals than spending $5 billion on a wall? Here are a few possibilities.

Fix the Asylum System

The surge of asylum seekers from Central America has put further strain on an already stretched system that processes their claims, resulting in what is now a years-long backlog.

“The system is neither fair to legitimate claims nor timely,” said Andrew Selee, the president of the Migration Policy Center, a Washington, D.C., institute that studies migration.

An overhaul would involve hiring more judges and lawyers associated with the asylum process. This would reduce the backlog, allowing quicker deportations of those applicants whose claims have been denied. (At present, they are allowed to work legally in the United States until their case is heard by an immigration judge, which can take two to three years.) It would also have the effect of allowing Customs and Border Protection, the agency that first encounters the asylum seekers and more and more is being tasked with dealing with them, to focus on its core mission: “protecting the public from dangerous people and materials.”

“You’re not going to be able to ‘immigration judge’ your way out of the issue, but it’s going to help,” Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank that favors restricted immigration to the United States, told me.

Upgrade Ports of Entry

Trump has called the southern border a pipeline for “meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.” But it is unlikely that a wall will deter drug smugglers. “Drug smugglers have more than $5 billion to throw at the problem,” Theresa Brown, who studies immigration at the Bipartisan Policy Center, told me. “They will find another way.”

In fact, the overwhelming majority of drugs, weapons, migrants, and criminals cross the U.S.-Mexico border through one of 330 designated ports of entry between the two countries.

Part of the $5 billion could be spent on technology to detect drugs and weapons, which are concealed in compartments in cars or mixed with legitimate cargo in semi trailers and trains. It could also be used to hire more CBP officers to enhance detection and ease traffic delays caused by the time it takes to inspect vehicles that carry goods into the country.

Tighten Checks Between Ports of Entry

The George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations spent billions on technology and personnel along the nearly 2,000-mile border to detect migrants crossing illegally and, for the most part, that appears to have worked. Attempts to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border fell from 1.6 million in the 2000 fiscal year to 400,000 in the 2018 fiscal year, the latest period for which data are available.

“If you look at what’s been done on the enforcement side, it is more robust and effective than it’s been before in U.S. history,” said Edward Alden, who researches immigration and other topics at the Council on Foreign Relations. “We’re doing pretty much everything that can be done.”

Indeed, there are few places for migrants to hide in between the ports of entry. These areas are vast and have little physical infrastructure. Existing monitoring technology, including sensors and drones, allows CBP agents to track migrants for days before they are apprehended. Additional tech could enhance the detection of migrants to provide even better results. More CBP personnel could also be assigned to combat human smugglers who often bring migrants across the border.

It is virtually impossible to stop all illegal crossings. The amount spent on this effort depends very much on how important politicians say illegal immigration is to them—and, perhaps more importantly, what level of illegal crossings is acceptable to them.

Barriers (Like a Wall)

There is already more than 600 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico frontier. Barriers are effective not so much in stopping migrants, but in slowing them down. They work especially well in urban areas, where migrants can hide after crossing in order to avoid detection.

Fencing along the border has been shown to be fairly effective in places such as El Paso, Texas, and San Diego, California. Any comprehensive plan to address border security would likely include a barrier, which in some parts of the frontier would be, yes, a wall. But a $5 billion wall between ports of entry is unlikely to have the impact the president says it will: stopping drugs, criminals, and illegal immigration.

Ultimately, funding for such issues lies with Congress. Border security and immigration have become hot-button issues in the United States, rendering a serious debate over priorities along the frontier with Mexico virtually impossible.

“There’s definitely a conversation to be had about what is actually needed to secure the border,” the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Brown said. “Unfortunately, we’re having a conversation just about a wall.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.