Border Patrol

Crime Along the Border Is Historically Low

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) just announced that they have apprehended 787,161 people from the beginning of fiscal year (FY) 2019 through to the end of May 2019.  CBP apprehended 144, 278 people in May alone, marking the third month in a row that more than 100,000 people have been apprehended.  Relative to the end of May in FY2018, apprehensions this year are up 178 percent.  Although the number of apprehensions is rising, the number of criminal aliens encountered by C

A Potential Border Wall Compromise

President Trump recently backed off his demand for $5 billion in funding for his border wall, likely averting a government shutdown around Christmas.  However, the political debate over funding for border wall will merely reemerge in the New Year.  Besides new court decisions regarding DACA, there is little to break this deadlock.  Some of the suggestions below offer additional avenues on which to negotiate.  

One of President Trump’s persistent claims is that the wall will secure the border and he recently implied that Border Patrol agents are substitutes for such a barrier.  In that case, I have a suggestion for Congressional Democrats who will be negotiating with the President over the wall in the next several years:  If you must fund the wall in exchange for the DREAM Act or DACA, have Border Patrol pay for it.

This idea is simple in concept – just fire Border Patrol agents and use their saved salaries to fund the construction of the border wall.  As of the middle of 2018, the 19,338 Border Patrol agents had an average annual salary of $61,064.  Altogether, they were paid about $1.18 billion in 2018.  The savings from firing all of them in one year wouldn’t come close to funding the $25 billion or so to build the entire border wall and would only go a small portion of the way toward President Trump’s more modest $5 billion request, but it’s a start.

Of course, the government should not fire all the Border Patrol agents.  Some are necessary to patrol the border even if Congress liberalizes the immigration system.  But this is Washington, DC, and politics being what it is, we all must compromise.  If Congress instead fired half of all Border Patrol agents and instituted a policy of no new net hiring, that would free up $590.4 million per year for the construction of a border wall.  In 8 years and 5 months, about $5 billion in savings could be diverted to the wall.

More Information Won’t Resolve Management Problems at Border Patrol Checkpoints

A new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report claims that, among other issues, the Border Patrol is not efficiently deploying agents to maximize the interdiction of drugs and illegal immigrants at interior checkpoints. I wrote about this here. These checkpoints are typically 25 to 100 miles inside of the United States and are part of a “defense in depth” strategy that is intended to deter illegal behavior along the border. Border Patrol is making suboptimal choices with scarce resources when it comes to enforcing laws along the border. A theme throughout the GAO report is that Border Patrol does not have enough information to efficiently manage checkpoints. Contrary to the GAO’s findings, poor institutional incentives better explain Border Patrol inefficiencies, while a lack information is a result of those incentives. More information and metrics can actually worsen Border Patrol efficiency.

Inefficient Border Patrol Deployments

Border Patrol enforces laws in a large area along the border with Mexico. They divide the border into nine geographic sectors. They further divide each sector into stations that are further subdivided into zones, some of which are “border zones” that are actually along the Mexican border while the remainder are “interior zones” that are not along the border. The GAO reports that this organization allows officials on the zone level to deploy agents in response to changing border conditions and intelligence. 

The GAO states that Headquarters deploys Border Patrol agents to border sectors based on threats, intelligence, and the flow of illegal activity. The heads of each sector then allocate agents to specific stations and checkpoints based on the above factors as well as local ones such as geography, climate, and the proximity of private property. The heads of those stations and checkpoints then assign specific shifts to each agent. The time it takes for a Border Patrol agent to respond to reported activity, their proximity to urban areas where illegal immigrants can easily blend in, and road access all factor into these deployment decisions. 

Border Patrol Checkpoints Do Not Work—End Them

Data from a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report shows that interior checkpoints manned by Border Patrol agents are a poor use of resources, at least from an enforcement perspective. Border Patrol checkpoints would have to have apprehended about 100,000 to 120,000 more illegal immigrants from FY2013-2016 than they actually did to justify the man-hours spent occupying them by agents. Even those who support expanding immigration enforcement along the border should recognize that checkpoints are a waste of scarce border security resources. 

Border Patrol agents man checkpoints within 100 miles of the U.S. border where they can stop motorists, inquire about immigration status, and enforce other laws. Checkpoints are a significant risk to civil liberties and are expensive to run. Supporters argue that checkpoints are effective at enforcing federal laws against illegal immigration and drugs, although Border Patrol officials state that they are more concerned about the former. However, the number of illegal immigrant apprehensions, drug seizures by weight, and the deployment of Border Patrol man-hours to checkpoints show that they are not a good use of resources if the goal is to enforce immigration and drug laws.

Figure 1 comes from data reported by the GAO for FY2013-2016. About 9.4 percent of all man-hours worked by Border Patrol were at checkpoints but they only apprehended 3.1 percent of all illegal immigrants apprehended and 5.4 percent of all marijuana seized by weight, at best. At worst, Border Patrol apprehended only 1.9 percent of all illegal immigrants at checkpoints (this same number estimate is not reported for marijuana seizures). This means that Border Patrol agents would have to have apprehended 101,219 to 120,978 more illegal immigrants from FY2013-2016 at checkpoints than they actually did in order for their expenditure of man-hours to be proportional to their apprehensions. 

Border Patrol would have had to seize about 410,952 more pounds of marijuana at checkpoints from FY2013-2016 for their man-hours expenditure there to be proportional to the amount of the drug that they seized. Each unit of time that a Border Patrol agent spends at checkpoints results in fewer apprehensions and marijuana seizures than the same unit of time does spend enforcing those laws outside of checkpoints.

Figure 1

Border Patrol Man-Hours, Marijuana Seized by Weight, and Immigrant Apprehensions by Location, FY2013-2016

 

Source: Author’s Calculations from GAO.

Two Reasons Not to Hire More Border Patrol Agents

The main argument against President Trump’s plan to hire more Border Patrol agents is that the Southern border does not need them.  Even border hawks can’t argue with the evidence that Border Patrol agents are a lot less busy than they used to be.  In 1986, Border Patrol agents along the Southern border apprehended an average of 42 illegal immigrants every month.  That number fell to 2 a month by 2016 – one apprehension for every couple of weeks on the job (Figure 1).  The last month

99.7% of All Migration Is Legal

Complaints about illegal immigration are constant and repetitive.  They’re sowing chaos along the border, using welfare, taking American jobs, and their mere presence is destroying respect for the law.  Some oppose legalizing any illegal immigrants until the border is secure.

Good news: The border is secure and it has been for a long time.

99.7 percent of all people who successfully enter the United States do so legally (Figure 1).  Whether as a tourist, guest worker, or refugee, the vast majority of all admissions to the United States have been legal from 2003 through 2015.  A mere 0.3 percent of all entries to the United States during that time were illegal.  The big red arrow on Figure 1 points to where illegal entries peaked in 2004 at 0.42 percent of all entries.  The last year for which data is available, 2015, provides evidence that illegal entries are falling as 99.81 percent of all admissions were legal while only 0.19 percent were illegal. 

Figure 1

All Legal and Illegal Admissions into the United States

Sources: DHS Yearbook of Immigration Statistics and Center for Migration Studies.

Dying to Work in America’s Black Market

The recent deaths of ten illegal immigrants in San Antonio, Texas are a gruesome example of the human costs of severe immigration restrictions. The immigrants wanted to be smuggled into the United States and, presumably, paid somebody for that service. They had no way to enter lawfully because the United States government allows in few temporary migrants to work in a handful of occupations and there is essentially no green card category for low skilled workers. Many of these people face the choice of continued poverty in their home countries or taking a risk at a better life working in the American black market. Attempting to work in the United States is risky and sometimes leads to deaths because of immigration enforcement and more enforcement will result in more deaths. 

These immigrants did make the choice to break American immigration laws but it does not follow that they are the ones to blame for their own deaths, despite what some restrictionists think. Immigration laws are primarily designed to stop Americans from voluntarily hiring, contracting, or selling to willing foreigners. If the immigration laws were concerned primarily with protecting the rights of Americans and those illegal immigrants who died in the Texas heat intended to do harm, had serious criminal records, or there was another excellent reason to think they would have hurt people here, then their deaths could be a defensible cost of a rational system that does more good than harm. At the very minimum, one could claim that the law that incentivized them to enter the black market at great risk was intended to protect people. But nobody familiar with our immigration laws or the net-positive effect of immigrants on Americans can make that argument with a straight face. These illegal immigrants died because of an international labor market regulation.    

Those who die from the heat in shipping containers are only a fraction of all deaths crossing the border. From 1998 through the end of 2016, 6,915 people died crossing the Southwest border. The number of deaths is somewhat up over that time even though the number of apprehensions is way down meaning that the inflow of illegal immigrants does not primarily drive the number of deaths (Figure 1). 

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