As congressional negotiators attempt to reach a deal on border security to keep the U.S. government open, Democrats would be smart to come to the table willing to match or even exceed President Trump’s demand for a $5.7 billion appropriation.
They need only insist that the money be spent on measures that would effectively strengthen America’s borders.
That would include maintenance, improvements and some additions to the nearly 700 miles of fencing already in place along the southern U.S. border. In some places, the existing wall needs better lighting, storm drain grates and other improvements.
And the wall should be extended and reinforced in places where it’s been easy for migrants to melt into urban areas. As mundane as it sounds, providing for better upkeep of the 5,000-plus miles of roads (many of them privately owned) used to patrol the border is also crucial.
But to construct a physical barrier along the entire 2,000-mile frontier between Mexico and the U.S. would be a poor investment. As border-patrol officers well know, walls can be climbed over, tunneled under, and breached. They can deter or slow crossers in high-traffic areas, but they are no panacea and fail the cost-benefit test in most others.
Money would be better spent at the several dozen border crossings where more than a million people and nearly $6 billion worth of goods enter and exit the U.S. legally every day.
These are also the places where the overwhelming majority of illegal drugs and contraband come in. They are badly understaffed. Even as the number of border patrol agents at the southwestern border has quadrupled since 1988, its ports of entry suffer from a shortfall of customs inspectors.
Opening new lanes at border crossings would help spur legitimate travel and commerce.
Doing so, however, would require more and better scanning technology; drive-thru machines, for instance, can raise by 10 times the number of trucks screened per hour. In addition, front-line personnel sometimes lack the technological resources to easily identify fentanyl, one of the biggest killers in today’s opioid epidemic, and other illicit substances. All told, the U.S. could stand to invest some $4 billion in new technology and personnel.
As part of that investment, Congress should fund more research into promising technologies for scanning vehicles and travelers, detecting tunnels, and monitoring the border from the air.
There’s nothing wrong, and much that could be right, with spending billions to reinforce American border security. Democrats should fashion a deal that goes as “big” as the president demands, without wasting any money.