Things are changing at the U.S.-Mexico border, the Denver Post reports in the first of a series. In federal courthouses in Laredo and Del Rio, a small army of illegal immigrants who a few years ago would have been set free or dumped back across the border are going to jail. In Artesia, N.M., A barracks is being readied in frenzied preparation for a flood of trainees headed to the Border Patrol Academy there. In the Arizona desert, Boeing engineers are laying down the first segment of a high-tech “virtual wall” that will stretch from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. From California’s Imperial Beach to the Rio Grande, a “Fortress America” is emerging. While the new Democratic-controlled Congress will have a say in exactly how far the effort will go, its shape is already unfolding.
If all goes according to plan, says the Post, the strategy will cost billions of dollars, lead to the biggest border prison boom in decades, create the federal government’s largest enforcement arm, and literally remake the landscape of the country’s 2,000-mile southern border. Critics say the effort is an expensive, even foolhardy risk, pouring more money into failed border-control strategies when there are cheaper and more effective means to reach the same end. Meanwhile, illegal-immigration-related cases have surpassed narcotics as the single-largest category of federal prosecutions. An 85 percent jump in federal immigration cases beginning two years ago is traceable almost entirely to a new strategy by U.S. attorneys at the border. The 2004 Intelligence Reform Act authorized 40,000 new immigration-related detention beds by 2010, and thousands are now being built in border regions like southern Texas. For supporters, it’s a long-overdue effort to establish the rule of law; for foes, it’s a slow militarization built on prison shackles and razor wire.