Beyond the Border Buildup: Security and Migrants Along the U.S.-Mexico Border is the product of a year-long study by WOLA and Mexico’s College of the Northern Border (COLEF) on the impact of the U.S. and Mexico’s security policies along the border.
The study finds a dramatic buildup of U.S. security forces along the southern border – a fivefold increase of the Border Patrol in the last decade, an unusual new role for U.S. soldiers on U.S. soil, drones and other high-tech surveillance, plus hundreds of miles of completed fencing – without a clear impact on security. For instance, the study finds that despite the security buildup, more drugs are crossing than ever before.
Furthermore, the study reveals that security policies that were designed to combat terrorism and drug trafficking are causing a humanitarian crisis and putting migrants in increasing danger. Migrants are often subject to abuse and mistreatment while in U.S. custody, and face higher risks of death in the desert than in previous years. Also, certain deportation practices put migrants at risk. For example, migrants can be deported at night and/or to cities hundreds of miles from where they were detained. These same cities are also some of the border region’s most dangerous, where migrants may fall prey to – or be recruited by – criminal groups. In Mexico, approximately 20,000 migrants are kidnapped a year; many others face other abuses.
WOLA found that any further increase in the security buildup will yield diminishing returns. Contrary to common opinion, the report documents a sharp drop in migrant crossings. Since 2005, the number of migrants apprehended by the Border Patrol has plummeted by 61 percent, to levels not seen since Richard Nixon was president. Today, twenty migrants are apprehended per border patrol agent per year, down from 300 per agent per year in 1992.
Finally, the study finds that violence in Mexico is not spilling over to the U.S. side of the border. U.S. border cities experience fewer violent crimes than the national average, or even the averages of the border states. WOLA recommends that before making further investments in border security, the U.S. government should stop and take stock of what is and isn’t working in order to create a comprehensive strategy that takes addresses the real threats while respecting the human rights of migrants.