U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents patrol along the international border between Mexico and the United States near San Diego, California
If Congressional Republicans get their way, the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) border separating the US and Mexico will be equipped observation towers, surveillance drones and one guard every 1,000 feet (300 meters).
The proposal comes as a compromise initiative by the US Senate in an effort to pass a immigration reform bill. The legislation would see the Obama administration create a path to citizenship for some 11 million undocumented immigrants, while at the same time ease Republican fears of another mass-cross-border migration from Mexico.
The security plan, created by Republican Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, would station another 20,000 Border Patrol agents along the southern border, in addition to the 18,500 already there. The bill would also expand fencing and install a visa entry and exit system at seaports and international airports, among other costly features.
“It would be very difficult to create a stronger border security bill,” Dallas News quoted Corker as saying. “I don’t know what else could be done in this nation to secure the border if these inputs, once implemented, don’t work.”
However, the Republican plan for a ‘surge’ along the US-Mexico border – complete with a dazzling array of sophisticated gadgetry, including night-vision goggles, unmanned aerial vehicles and radar – has liberal groups worried that the US border will become a militarized zone.
These fears are heightened by the fact that border crossing interceptions have dropped significantly since 1999, when approximately 1.5 million migrants were apprehended attempting to cross into the US through Mexico, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Today, fewer than 250,000 immigrants attempting to cross illegally into the United States are stopped annually.
Statistics suggest that the struggling US economy is one reason why fewer Mexicans, among other nationalities, are attempting to illegally cross into the US for work. In the past two years, Mexico’s economy has grown at a healthy 3.9 percent annually, which has helped the Central American nation create jobs.
Maintenence personel check a Predator drone operated by U.S. Office of Air and Marine (OAM), before its surveillance flight near the Mexican border on March 7, 2013 from Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona.
A newly released report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecasts that the immigration bill would actually reduce the federal budget deficit by $197 billion over the next decade, and $700 billion over the decade after that. The legislation would assimilate both skilled and unskilled workers from abroad, boosting American output and productivity.
The CBO predicts the US economy will be 5.4 percent larger in 2033 if the legislation is passed, and that average salaries would also be slightly higher.
Nevertheless, Republicans – mindful of the multitudes that streamed across the border after Ronald Reagan’s amnesty program in 1986 – have said they would not support Obama’s immigration bill unless it contained “concrete measures” to prevent foreigners from illegally entering the US from Mexico.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, maintaining security along the US-Mexico border already costs $18 billion a year – more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. Enhancing security along the Mexican border will cost an additional $30 billion, which may prove a bitter bill to swallow as Washington enacts austerity measures in its effort to trim spending.
John McCain (R-AZ), a co-author of the legislation, claims that this enhanced technology will allow the US Border Patrol to identify locations where undocumented migrants are attempting to cross. The 2008 Republican presidential candidate also wants to force all US companies to check the legal status of their workforce.
Some 40 percent of America’s immigrants have overstayed their visas, rather than entered the country illegally, the senator added.
Although America’s 2,000-mile border with Mexico is more secure than ever, it looks as if it will become even stronger at a time of severe strain on the US budget. The stage is set for ongoing debates between Democrats and Republicans over the limits of imposing security along its southern border, as well as what to do with the millions whose future in the United States remains uncertain.