Border security isn’t the problem – Mero Moment, 8/12/14

People cross the Rio Grande into Big Bend National Park in Texas.

People cross the Rio Grande into Big Bend National Park in Texas.

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

James O’Keefe is known for his short films exposing liberal hypocrisy and corruption. His most famous film was an undercover recording of corruption inside the offices of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). O’Keefe’s revealing video footage resulted in ACORN shutting down its operations.

His latest video shows O’Keefe crossing the U.S./Mexico border unmolested by U.S. border patrol. He did it twice – the second time dressed in Army fatigues and wearing a Halloween mask of Osama bin Laden. His point was to show how unprotected our southern border really is.

The border between the United States and Mexico runs nearly 2,000 miles. Picture standing on the shores of Imperial Beach, California, and walking east/southeast 2,000 miles to the Gulf of Mexico. That’s a lot of ground to cover. Most undocumented immigrants enter the United States at population rich spots – like the border at Tijuana. Understandably, U.S. border patrol is concentrated in those areas. Not so much in the desert areas.

But there’s James O’Keefe – I’m sure a very well-meaning fellow – standing in the middle of nowhere, on the Mexican side of the border, videotaping how he can saunter across the shallow river about 20 feet to the Land of the Free on the other side. He looks into the camera and says, “There’s not a border agent around for miles.”

Folks, if you think that seeing a border agent means our border is secure, please reconsider. There’s a reason why we call where O’Keefe was standing “the middle of nowhere” – it’s precisely because few people trod that ground. He was visiting 4,000 square miles of Texas desert in Hudspeth County, population 3,500. Not really the crossroads of the West. In fact, if somebody were trying to cross the border there, you’d be able to see them coming for miles.

We need to quit thinking of border security in the narrowest of terms. A border agent can hardly be defined as border security along a 2,000-mile stretch of land. My guess is that there are more future actual terrorists currently attending Ivy League universities than will ever cross the southern border at Hudspeth County, Texas.

I’m not arguing that the southern border isn’t a sieve. It is. But it’s always been a sieve. When Homeland Security tells Americans that the southern border has never been more secure, they’re not lying. But all of that debate is relative. Border security has to mean more than a physical presence. In this age of technology, our southern border is better protected from the sky than it is on the ground. And if we need to arrest bad guys, it’s done better strategically than randomly – and it’s done better in the country of origin before these bad guys get to our border. You don’t really stop drugs at the border. You stop them where they’re being manufactured.

Politics is killing every attempt at effective immigration reform. Just as a “pathway to citizenship” is a straw man raised by some progressives, border security is a straw man raised by some conservatives. Put another way, the problem isn’t border security. The problem is terrorism. The problem isn’t a fenceless border. The problem is a seemingly unquenchable thirst for illicit drugs. In either case, real solutions are far from our southern border.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.

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