Similar concerns about wasted resources and a lack of clear thinking about what a secure border really means were raised at the Immigration Policy Center event. It was noted there that a study of relevant legislative proposals from 2006, 2007, and 2010 shows that every benchmark set has been met even though the bills did not pass. For example, the 2007 proposal called for increasing the number of border guards to 20,000. There are now more than 21,000 agents. But a rationale for such benchmarks has never been presented nor is there a means of assessing whether meeting them was worth the cost in terms of the security achieved, noted Su Kim of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, who authored the study with colleague Greg Chen.
Goddard noted that the Congress, the White House, and others tend to talk only about the flow of immigrants and throwing resources like border guards at stopping that flow. “We need a larger matrix,” he said. It must include a discussion of drug smuggling and other contraband, but most important, it must address the transfer of currency back to Mexico and into the hands of cartels, which drives the cycle of immigrant and drug smuggling, because those activities continue to be so profitable.
The problem is not the individuals crossing the border but the criminal organizations that facilitate the crossing as one part of their vast criminal operations, Goddard said.
There has been some progress. As Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner for the Office of Technology Innovation and Acquisition, testified before Congress, “from FY 2009 to 2012, CBP seized 71 percent more currency, 39 percent more drugs, and 189 percent more weapons along the Southwest border as compared to FY 2006 to 2008.” Furthermore, “CBP officers and agents seized more than 4.2 million pounds of narcotics and more than $100 million in unreported currency through targeted enforcement operations,” he said.
But such seizures of drugs and cash by the DHS represent only a drop in the bucket of this illicit business. As Goddard stated in a related paper on the topic, “as long as the money from drug sales and human smuggling [estimated to be upwards of $40 billion] flows to the cartels, the violence in Mexico, the sophisticated smugglers crossing our border, and the perception that nothing is being done to defend the border will continue.”
The key to stemming the flood of cash to cartels isn’t more border arrests; it is stronger enforcement of money laundering provisions. Cartels, he noted in his paper, subcontract with a wide range of financial experts in the United States who make these transactions look legitimate—the money isn’t literally being sent in bundles across a land border.