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Report: Southwest border security is at point of ‘diminishing returns’

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WASHINGTON – A dramatic buildup of security personnel on the Southwest border has contributed to a decline in illegal immigration, but more efforts will yield “diminishing returns,” according to a report released Thursday.

The report by the Washington Office on Latin America challenges “border hawk” claims that more military forces and higher fences are needed to further reduce illegal immigration and criminal activity, citing a 61 percent drop in apprehensions since 2005 and a lack of violence spilling over from Mexico.

The report, written with Mexico’s College of the Northern Border, also claims the same security policies that led to drop in illegal immigration are contributing to a humanitarian crisis by putting migrants in more danger.

“The security buildup has resulted in a confusing tangle of agencies whose mission is undermined by the lack of a clear strategy,” said Adam Isacson, who co-authored the report. “The facts contradict the frequent call to escalate the massive buildup of U.S. border security forces, including the military.”

That argument was strongly rejected by the Federation for American Immigration Reform. A spokesman said the claim that the border is secure is “astonishing,” noting continued calls for more federal support.

“That is astonishing news to ranchers all along the border who are on a daily basis hiding in their homes … from human traffickers and drug cartels,” said FAIR spokesman Bob Dane.

“And it is certainly news to most of the border-area sheriffs and law enforcement personnel who are pleading for more resources because they are outmanned and outgunned,” he said.

A Customs and Border Protection official said Border Patrol “is better staffed than at any time in its 87-year history and seizures of illicit goods are up across the board.”

In an official response to the report, the Department of Homeland Security said it has “deployed historic levels of personnel, technology and infrastructure to the Southwest border to reduce the flow of illicit drugs, cash, and weapons” under President Barack Obama.

Isacson, noting the drop in border crossings, said continued calls for a border crackdown and rising anti-immigrant rhetoric are driven by four fears: illegal immigration, terrorist entry, spillover border violence and drug trafficking.

But migration is at a 40-year low, terrorists have not been detected and the violence in Mexico – save for a “few notorious incidents” – stays south of the border, the report said.

Only drug trafficking is a problem that has continued to escalate, Isacson said, demonstrating the inability of border security to act as a deterrent to drug cartels.

According to the report, the number of migrant deaths has remained constant even as migrant crossings have decreased dramatically. The report claims deaths are caused in part by the increased security presence, as migrants attempt to cross through more treacherous terrain.

FAIR rejected the argument that security forces are contributing to a humanitarian crisis at the border.

“It is preposterous to say that someone who enters the country illegally and is detained and deported is caught up in a humanitarian crisis,” Dane said. “That’s a slight to people all across the world who are starving to death and facing dangers for which they have no part in.”

The report’s authors did not research the impact of anti-illegal-immigration bills such as Arizona’s SB 1070 on migration patterns. But Isacson believes such legislation, like higher fences, is not likely to have much impact on most people’s decisions to cross the border.

“They’re still going to come,” Isacson said. “Regardless of what Arizona does or the national mood is, their opportunities are still better here.”