Securing our border must be first step in immigration reform
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For the last 40 years, elected officials in Washington have repeatedly tried to secure our nation’s southern border and fix our broken immigration system, but every attempt at comprehensive reform legislation has failed.

While some falsely assume that this prolonged failure only affects border communities, the reality is that it has also created disastrous repercussions for the rest of the nation.

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This point was made abundantly clear when I recently joined fellow members of Congress for an extensive tour of the Texas-Mexico border, spending days meeting with border patrol agents who work tirelessly to stop illegal trafficking and contraband and keep our nation safe. 

The most deadly consequence of Washington’s failure to secure the southern border has been the rise of dangerous narcoterrorist organizations that operate within the confines of both Mexico and the United States.

This in turn has exacerbated the heroin and opioid epidemic that is devastating virtually all communities in every corner of our country. Heroin overdoses took the lives of more than 30,000 Americans in just a three year period from 2013 to 2015.

The vast majority of heroin in the United States comes from Central and South America, as cartels smuggle the drugs across our border, store them at stash houses, and then distribute them to cities across our country.

In addition to profiting from poisoning Americans with addictive and lethal drugs, narcoterrorist cartels are also making lucrative profits from human smuggling. Most people who illegally enter through the Southern border rely on “coyotes” or human smugglers to assist them. Many of these smugglers are affiliated with or work directly for a cartel, and give them a large chunk of their earnings. 

The human smugglers and cartels have no regard for the lives of the families and unaccompanied children they escort to the border, abandoning them at the first sign of a law enforcement official, bad weather, or a simple health ailment of one of the travelers. Hundreds die every year during the treacherous journey to American soil.

One ranch I visited on the Texas-Mexico border has recovered more than 100 dead bodies on the property over the last ten years, reflecting the real, tragic danger for migrants. The cruel twist is that the ranch is only half a mile away from a rescue beacon run by border patrol, where agents are ready to provide help and safety.

Some migrants have also been killed at the direct hands of the cartels, with one of the most notorious examples being the 2010 massacre in which Los Zetas narcoterrorists executed 72 men and women and buried their bodies in a mass grave after they refused to pay extortion fees to cross the border.

It’s clear that our unsecured border is the source of both a humanitarian crisis and a major national security vulnerability. We need to start focusing on practical solutions that will secure our border once and for all.

We need to recognize that a continuous wall from one end of our Southern border to the other is neither feasible nor effective. It’s basic geology. A 20-foot wall on a 3,000-foot sheer cliff will not stop human crossings or drug trafficking, and neither will a 20-foot wall on the Rio Grande River, where the winding river and soft soil make construction extremely difficult and expensive. 

However, we can still effectively achieve a secure border through major strategic investments in three resources: personnel, technology, and infrastructure.

We need more boots on the ground to patrol the border, which means hiring more Customs and Border Protection agents to apprehend those attempting to illegally enter our country. This is easier said than done, as the agency has faced staffing difficulties and low morale in recent years. These issues must be addressed head-on, with a focus on ways to decrease the attrition rate and significantly increase the number of qualified men and women to serve as agents.  

Technology will also play a critical role in assisting efforts to keep our border secure. This includes making investments in sensors, remote video and monitoring surveillance systems, forward looking infrared, and thermal acquisition monocular systems. 

Beefing up infrastructure is also a necessity. There are many areas along the border where we can utilize a combination of fencing, watch towers, and other physical barriers that will ultimately increase the speed and effectiveness of apprehending illegal entrants.

We must also improve security and infrastructure at ports and bridges of entry and exit, where the majority of narcotics, counterfeit goods, and other illicit products are smuggled into the United States. This must include expanding and improving the resources available to Customs and Border Protection agents.

Above all else, the personnel, technology, and infrastructure that we invest in and utilize must be targeted to the unique needs of specific areas along the border. We must rely on the experience, knowledge and insight of local leadership.

I believe that a practical and effective approach to border security can gain the support of the Trump administration and both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Moving forward, border security should initiate the first phase of a methodical, step by step process to immigration reform that will also strengthen interior enforcement, reform our legal immigration system, and address the undocumented population in the United States in a fair and compassionate way.

Securing our border and reforming our broken immigration system will require all sides to demonstrate a willingness to work together and refuse to allow the perfect to become the enemy of good solutions.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.