Lentis/The United States - Mexico Border

Algodones sand-dune-fence


The United States-Mexico border is mostly unguarded and open. Along part of the border on the United States side, a fence is erected to keep people from crossing into the other country. Most of this fence is ill maintained and proves to be of no hindrance to people wanting to cross the border. On the US side, part of the border is also guarded by border police who try to catch people crossing illegally. This police force though is strongly undermanned and lacking resources.Millions of illegal immigrants are still able to get through and cross into the United States. This brings up the age old question, should the United States - Mexico border be guarded and fenced off to stop illegal activity?

Social Impacts of Illegal Border ActivitiesEdit

Illegal border crossings come in many ways for very many reasons. One of the most common reasons in recent years has been to smuggle drugs such as marijuana and heroin from Mexico into the United States. The fight to stop this type of crossing is of the utmost importance to the United States. Another select group of individuals looking to cross the border are simply in search of work. Their reasons include economic hardships in Mexico and paying to bring the remaining members of their families to the United States. As long as the individual income differential remains large between the United States and Mexico, illegal immigration will continue to thrive1.

Illegal ImmigrantsEdit

United States census data from 2000 estimated the unauthorized migrant population at 8.4 million. The number of unauthorized migrants in the United States in 2005 was estimated at 11.1 million. Additionally, unauthorized immigrants accounted for 30% of the foreign born population in 2005. 8.7 million or 78% of all unauthorized migrants entered the United States by crossing the U.S.-Mexico Border, with 6.2 million people arriving from Mexico2.

The rate of illegal immigrants entering the United States had increased since the 1980s, with an average of 850,000 illegal immigrants per year between 2000 and 2005. However, the rate of illegal immigrants entering the United States between 2007 and 2009 has fallen to only 300,000 people per year. This sharp decline has decreased the number illegal immigrants living in the United States from a peak of 12 million in 2007 back down to 11.1 million3. Yet, this is still a very high population of undocumented residents. This large number of illegal immigrants creates issues for the U.S. Census Bureau because many illegal immigrants do not complete census forms. It is estimated that the national Hispanic population was undercounted by roughly 3.5 million in the 2000 census. This is significant for statistical data and for federal funding. Many undocumented inhabitants use facilities that receive federal funding such as schools and hospitals. For every inhabitant not counted in the census, the amount of federal funding allocated for such facilities is decreased. This has a large impact on states with high Hispanic populations, such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Many Hispanics do not wish to fill out the census for fear of being deported and other social groups support campaigns demanding legalization status for completing a census form4.

Politics and public policy have a major impact on the transport of goods and people across the U.S.-Mexico Border. On April 23, 2010, Arizona passed a state law that allows local police officers to ask for proof of legal residency of anyone they reasonably suspect is an illegal alien. This law is the strictest law on immigrants to date and has had much debate over it. Advocates claim it is necessary to reduce and prevent illegal immigrants in the United States and opponents claim that it is an infringement on civil liberties and will create tension between Hispanics and Arizona police that will hamper law enforcement5.

Illegal immigrants present both hardships and benefits for the United States. Illegal immigrants bring with them a cheap source of labor. They have a variety of occupations ranging from farming, construction, cleaning, food preparation, to other labor intensive2. Illegal immigrants often work long hours for extremely low wages. The wages have been forced to be so low that that it makes illegal immigrants a premium choice for high quality, cheap labor. This places a dilemma on the employers: do they raise wages and hire legal citizens to do the jobs, or do they take a chance and hire illegal immigrants at reduced wages and in addition to longer hours? This hiring of illegal immigrants also helps keep prices low. Since the labor price to complete the task was less, the price the consumer pays can be less.

There are huge economic impacts due to the illegal border activities. For example, illegal immigrants residing in the United States created an estimated net deficit of more than $10 billion for the United States federal government, when all direct and indirect costs were considered6. Still, some argue that illegal immigrants present a benefit to the economy and that immigrants boost the United States' Gross Domestic Product, others claim that the influx of cheap labor takes jobs from U.S. citizens and are a burden on the economy. However, both sides are simultaneously correct. The increased source of cheap labor increases the United States' GDP by a significant amount, but this overall benefit is entirely offset by the reduction in wages for citizens in direct competition for jobs with illegal immigrants in addition to the enormous financial drain to taxpayers7

Drug TraffickingEdit

Drug trafficking has become a major problem. Every year billions of dollars in drugs are illegally smuggled into the United States. Approximately 90% of the cocaine that enters the US comes from across the Mexican border. Other drug products that are frequently trafficked are marijuana and heroine. About 70% of the foreign narcotics that make their way into the US were smuggled from Mexico.8 Every year it costs the US and Mexico millions of dollars to try and stop this illegal drug trafficking. This places a burden on the financials and manpower of the government. The drugs that are being smuggled in are a major problem that needs to be dealt with. These problems are developed and represented in the Lentis chapter International Drug Trafficking and Law Enforcement. A lot of the problems dealing with drugs fall on law enforcement. Dealing with the problems stemming from drugs places the law enforcement agencies in a tight spot. They devote many resources against drugs and drug violence. These resources could be better used elsewhere but since this is such a prominent problem, they are unable to.

Many resources are dedicated to this cause along with multiple organizations whose job it is to stop the drug trade. The border police is one such organization. It is their job to stop the illegal drug trade across the border along with several other responsibilities. Check stations have been set up at strategic crossings to not only check for illegal immigrants but to make sure drugs are not being smuggled across country lines. It is also the border patrol’s job to actively patrol the border. They work with other police agencies to stop crime and minimize drug trafficking. The border patrol has mixed reactions. Many people view them as a valuable resource in helping make the United States safer and a better place to live. The border patrol is also a valuable source of jobs especially in an area where the economic hardships have hit hard. Others argue that the resources spent towards them could be better utilized or put to better use elsewhere, such as a border fence which would reduce the need for the border patrol. More information about the border patrol, such as the jobs and activities they preform as well as issues and controversies with them, can be found in the Wikipedia chapter United States Border Patrol.

The problems that arise from the drug trade do not end with the side effects and problems of the drug trade, but go much deeper. Violence has become a major issue. Drug cartels exercise violence to establish their dominance in the drug trade, destroy the competition, or protect their supply. Recently, the Mexican government has declared war on the drug cartels and is fighting back. They see the violence and damages the drug trade has caused and want to stop it2. The drug war has spread to both sides of the border as the drug cartel is unbiased as to who they eliminate whenever someone gets in their way. They also use fear to discourage competition and to cower the population so no action will be taken against them. This fear has created high tensions on both sides of the border. Though they remains neutral, innocent by-standers are becoming casualties of this terrible drug war. Millions of dollars have been spent to combat the drug cartels and their illegal activities, but as one cartel falls, another rises to fill the vacancy. For further reading on the Mexican drug cartel and the problems they present Mexican Drug War is a good resource.

Technical Response to Protecting the BorderEdit

Border FencesEdit

In cities such as San Diego, California and Naco, Arizona tall fences and walls have been erected that stretch the length of the town at the border9. The cost of border fences over the next 20 years are estimated to cost taxpaying citizens $6.5 billion. This is in addition to approximately $2.5 billion that has already been spent in the construction of fences along the United States - Mexico border. The border wall construction plan, a Bush administration initiative, has faced set backs and cost increases since its creation in 200610. As a result of border fences, "coyotes" are now having to go farther into the desert to cross the border. Coyotes are guides that are paid to bring illegal immigrants across the border. This a costly process, and often requires expensive payments from those wishing to cross the border. Although a fence is capable of acting as a barrier, it is only that. Illegal immigrants are perfectly capable of climbing the fence, and have proven this fact along its lengths. Though the United States - Mexico border contains lengths of fencing, it still requires Border Patrol agents to monitor the areas for people attempting to walk around or climb over the wall. While this method has made it more difficult for drug traffickers and illegal immigrants to enter the United States, it has not made the job of the United States Border Patrol any easier.

Video SurveillanceEdit

Digital monitoring such as video surveillance is active along the U.S. - Mexico border in areas suspected of large amounts of foot traffic and at intervals along the segments of border fence already constructed. The use of thermal imaging cameras supplied by companies like Flir have proven to be an asset to border patrol agents, giving them round the clock monitoring capabilities without having to physically patrol the entire length of the border. As heat signatures are detected, response teams are quickly deployed to the scene.

US-Mexico border fence

Seismic SensorsEdit

In an effort to locate would-be illegal immigrants and drug/weapons traffickers, the United States Border Patrol has employed the use of seismic activity detectors. These devices are hidden along and around suspected trails used to cross the border in remote areas of desert surrounding the U.S.- Mexico border, and when set off, allows border patrol officers to react quickly to intercept illegal crossings. Seismic sensing devices can be seen in action on National Geographic's Border Wars, a television show that follows the officers tasked with protecting the United States from illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

Further ReadingEdit

No Consensus on Immigration Problem or Proposed Fixes - http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/63.pdf


1. (2010). US-Mexico Border Fence. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from Global Securtiy: http://www.globalsecurity.org/security/systems/mexico-wall.htm#

2. Passel, J. S. (2006, March 07). The Size and Characteristics of the Unauthorized Migrant Population in the U.S. (Rep.). Retrieved November 8, 2010, from Pew Hispanic Center website: http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/61.pdf

3. Passel, J. S., & Cohn, D. (2010, September 1). U.S. Unauthorized Immigration Flows Are Down Sharply Since Mid-Decade (Rep.). Retrieved November 10, 2010, from Pew Hispanic Center website: http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/126.pdf

4. Park, M. (2010, February 16). Census Reaches Out to Hispanics, Illegal Immigrants. Census Reaches Out to Hispanics, Illegal Immigrants. Retrieved November 17, 2010, from http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/census-reaches-hispanics-illegal-immigrants/story?id=9761158

5. Pew Research Center. (2010, April 29). Hispanics and Arizona's New Immigration Law (Rep.). Retrieved November 11, 2010, from Pew Hispanic Center website: http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1579/arizona-immigration-law-fact-sheet-hispanic-population-opinion-discrimination

6. Camarota, S. A. (2004, August). The High Cost of Cheap Labor: Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget (Rep.). Retrieved November 8, 2010, from Center for Immigration Centers website: http://www.cis.org/articles/2004/fiscal.html

7. Camarota, S. A. (2010, September). Immigration and the U.S. Economy. Retrieved November 8, 2010, from Center for Immigration Studies website: http://www.cis.org/node/2294

8. Rios, V. (2008). Evaluating the Economic Impact of Drug Traffic in Mexico. Harvard University-Department of Government.

9. Bowden, C. (2007, May 1). U.S.-Mexico Border. National Geographic, Retrieved November 6, 2010, from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2007/05/us-mexican-border/bowden-text.html

10. (2009, September 17). Border Fence to cost $6.5B over 20 Years. Retrieved November 11, 2010, from CBS News: www.cbsnews.com