From an influx of Central American minors to concerns about ISIL and Ebola, the public image of the U.S.-Mexico border has taken a beating in recent weeks. Fortunately, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson rebutted some of the most common misperceptions in an important speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC yesterday.
While heart-rending images of unaccompanied children in detention centers remain vivid in our collective memory, Johnson made clear that the number of migrants is dramatically lower than it was when the surge began several months ago. As his deputy secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, said at a separate event at NDN last month, ultimate victory requires addressing the root causes of migration—namely, serious insecurity in the Northern Triangle of Central America—but at least the numbers are moving in the right direction. Johnson also discredited claims that four terrorists had crossed the border, and said that the government is intensifying efforts to protect U.S. citizens from Ebola.
In addition to dispelling these fears, Johnson declared a commitment to “more transparency about our border security,” delivering a thorough review of the huge investments made over the last 15 years in the Border Patrol, which has grown to become one of the largest agencies of the U.S. government (within the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security). Illegal migration peaked in 2000, with 1.6 million apprehensions that year, but has dramatically declined since then to around 400,000 apprehensions a year in recent years—a trend that Johnson credited in part to economic conditions in both the U.S. and Mexico, but also in large measure to the “deterrent factor” of border security.
In a greater effort to target tax-evasion and thwart potential efforts of smuggling and corruption, the Mexican government has replaced its 700 customs agents with over 1,400 newly trained and better-educated customs inspectors who have undergone extensive background checks. Announced on Sunday, Mexico’s customs authority spokesman Pedro Canabal said that “this change is part of our response to new demands in the fight against contraband” and also noted that the new deployments would improve Mexico’s tax collection, but the main benefit would be to prevent the entry of pirated and cheap goods that flood Mexico’s domestic industries. Military soldiers aided with some of the border controls during the transition.
This effort follows the government’s previous overhauling of the police force—all done in an attempt to root out corruption and tackle the drug cartels.
The border crossings will also have more dogs trained to identify drugs and other banned items and the new agents have been trained with the new high-tech equipment. Previously, Mexico only checked 10 percent of the 230,000 vehicles that crossed the U.S.-Mexico border daily, but the new technology will photograph, weigh and check the license plate of every vehicle that crosses the border.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.