Hardline U.S. Border Policing Is a Failed Approach


The most comprehensive study on Mexican migration yet demonstrates how the past two plus decades of increasing border enforcement have led to the opposite of intended outcomes.

"This election is our last chance to secure the border, stop illegal immigration, and reform our laws to make your life better,” Donald Trump proclaimed in his August 30 “immigration policy” speech. Railing against “the Obama-Clinton open borders policies,” the Republican candidate for the White House pledged that “we will begin working on an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border” on his first day in office. He also promised to hire 5,000 additional Border Patrol agents—a roughly 25 percent increase over current staffing levels.

And yet, hardline U.S. border policing efforts—which have expanded drastically over the past two plus decades and which Trump wishes to drastically escalate even further—have utterly failed to realize their objectives and instead led to the opposite of intended outcomes. A spring 2016 article by immigration scholars Douglas Massey, Jorge Durand and Karen Pren is an antidote to bombast like Trump’s. Massey and Durand have been publishing their findings on the failure of US border immigration enforcement since their landmark 2002 book, Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic Integration. The 2016 article is their most thorough updating of their work. It should force a fundamental rethinking of U.S. immigration and border control policies. Their work is echoed by many other scholars and activists.

Massey, Durand, and Pren’s study is based on data from one of the largest ongoing migrant databases in the world, and certainly the most comprehensive when it comes to studying Mexican migration. Known as the Mexican Migration project, the database began tracking migration in 1982 and has since interviewed some 151,000 people from migrant-sending households in twenty-four Mexican states. Massey and Durand have been publishing work on this massive project since 1987.

In their recent study, the authors take 1986, the year that the Immigration Reform and Control Act was enacted by the Reagan administration, as the starting point for escalated border immigration enforcement efforts, and examine data through 2010, allowing a detailed analysis of decades of long-term immigration trends.  During this period, there was enormous growth in resources devoted to boundary enforcement. The U.S. Border Patrol, for example, saw an increase of 850 percent in its budget—reaching $3.8 billion per year in 2010 and a quintupling of the number of agents, to more than 20,000.

The dramatic growth in the border policing apparatus, Massey, Durand, and Pren propose, can be traced back to the mid-1970s. Since then, three connected groups of self-interested social actors—immigration control bureaucrats asking for larger budgets, politicians seeking more votes, and media pundits in search of bigger audiences—have produced a “moral panic” about undocumented immigration from Mexico by playing up images of a “Latino threat.” Trump’s infamous demonization of undocumented Mexican immigrants as rapists and drug dealers is only a more extreme version of the outrageous and grossly misleading statements politicians have been making for decades. Such vilification has fueled much public fear and hostility toward undocumented Latino immigrants, resulting in a self-perpetuating cycle of public support for ever-escalating border enforcement.

Read the entire article here: http://nacla.org/blog/2016/09/21/hardline-us-border-policing-failed-approach