Immigration reform is back in the center of U.S. politics. But so is border security.
Voters reelected Obama as expected. But not simply a reelection, there was also an unexpected revival, a seemingly miraculous resurrection of the prospects for immigration reform. The election also seemed to mark a turn toward drug control reform and the legalization of marijuana.
As Republicans and Democrats recognize the political logic of finally fixing the country’s restrictive and harsh immigration policies, there is bipartisan support for immigration reform, Rather than being a untouchable “third rail” of politics, immigration reform has emerged, as if overnight, as a political imperative for both parties.
Largely because of dramatically increasing political participation of Latinos, Asians, and other immigrant-based communities, support for some type of immigration reform -- whether a comprehensive overhaul or piecemeal revisions -- spans nearly the entire political spectrum in post-election America.
Advocacy for immigration reform is breaking into various camps – from those only supporting an expansion of guest-worker programs to those who insist on comprehensive immigration reform. Virtually all sectors regard border security as a precondition for immigration reform. Border security is the common ground for all camps favoring immigration reform, even among immigrant-rights advocacy groups.
When speaking about the new prospects for immigration reform after his reelection, President Obama made the now required nod to border security. It’s rare to hear any politician or reform advocate speak favorably of immigration reform without the apparently requisite bow to border security. As President Obama said, "I think it should include a continuation of the strong border security measures that we've taken because we have to secure our borders.”
The Muddle of Border Security
Support is building for immigration reform, and states and communities are rejecting harsh federal drug laws. However, the border security buildup – which is almost exclusively focused on immigration and drug enforcement – continues. CIP’s latest International Policy Report, The Border Patrol’s Strategic Muddle [PDF | HTML], chronicles the Border Patrol’s missteps, examines the agency’s evolving strategy, and points to new directions in border policy.
“At a time when corrective initiatives are building to reform restrictive federal policies for immigrants and marijuana – the two traditional targets of border control operations – the Border Patrol seems stuck in a strategic muddle, as evident in its new strategy document,” says the report’s author, Tom Barry.
Following intense criticism for its billion-dollar high-tech programs, excessive and cross-border violence, and continuing failure to provide performance and cost-benefit evaluations of its various new security initiatives, the Border Patrol released the 2012 – 2016 Border Patrol Strategic Plan.
The latest plan was intended to put critics’ concerns over these problems to rest; it instead ignores them entirely. According to Barry, “The 2012 – 2016 Border Patrol Strategic Plan is not a serious document. It includes repeated references to vague tactics such as rapid response, intelligence, community engagement, whole-of-government approaches, and inter-governmental integration.”
Newly reelected President Obama declared that operations to “secure our border” are fundamental to immigration reform. Yet, as the Border Patrol’s new strategy statement illustrates, the administration’s border policy lacks firm strategic directions, apparently driven more by politics than any assessment of threats to homeland security.