Up until now, I’ve deliberately ignored some of the border security-related stories that have been in the news this week, trying to sort out the details and understand their implications before posting.
- On Monday, a border incident in rural west Texas between U.S. Border Patrol officials and Mexican drug smugglers, some of whom were dressed up as Mexican military (or were one and the same, some charge) has sparked a diplomatic row and a war of words between the US and Mexico.
- This incident reinforced earlier outcries about the frequency of actual border incursions by Mexican officials into U.S. territory.
- On Wednesday, Sec. Chertoff reacted strongly against a plan under development by the Human Rights Commission of Mexico and an NGO, Humane Borders, to provide maps to Mexican border crossers that would alert them to high-risk areas and point out the locations of water tanks and rescue beacons.
- Also on Wednesday, a highly-sophisticated smuggling tunnel was discovered running between Tijuana and San Diego.
- And finally, Mexican President Vicente Fox described the proposed border fence as a new “Berlin Wall” in comments to the media in the middle of the week.
All of this “border madness” takes place at a time when Congress is considering the most important border security and immigration legislation in a decade. I worry that these kinds of highly charged stories will have an undue influence on the legislative process. The border security legislation needs to be written not based on emotion, but on a rigorous analysis of the threats to national security, the costs and benefits of various measures, and the macro-level economic impacts on measures such as GDP and unemployment. A bill that is not fundamentally grounded in these realities, but responds instead to the hysteria of the day, is going to be a disaster for the nation.
The media also needs to do a better job of reporting these kind of stories in context, and explain how many of these activities are not new problems, but have been happening for a long time. They are important problems and need to be addressed, but they don’t deserve a manic level of attention, a la the “summer of the shark attack” in 2001.