In the decade since the U.S. launched a massive operation to seal the Southwestern border, spending has topped $20 billion and the Border Patrol has swelled to become the nation’s largest uniformed police force, says the Arizona Republic.
Experts say the infusion of money and manpower along the 2,000-mile border has had questionable results: While the number of agents has more than tripled, thousands of undocumented immigrants cross the border each day and hundreds die each year. A decade after the start of the operation, arrests have dropped to 900,000 last year from 1.2 million in 1993.
The government remains committed to the strategy, said Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for the Department of Homeland Security. Yesterday, he announced additional reinforcements in Arizona as part of a campaign to secure the most porous and deadly stretches of desert. The agency is adding 260 agents, unmanned aircraft, and increasing detention space in Arizona in coming weeks at a cost of $10 million.
Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a member of the House Immigration and Border Security subcommittee, said he welcomes additional border agents but said it amounts to a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., opposes the buildup, saying the effectiveness has yet to be evaluated for previous federal strategies that have “rerouted migrants through treacherous (desert) areas” where many have died in isolation.
The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, estimated in 2000 that fully implementing the strategy, Operation Gatekeeper, launched in the 1990s, could take until 2010 and determined that there was “no clear indication overall (that) illegal entry along the Southwest border has declined.” Conservative estimates put the necessary number of agents at 12,000 to 16,000, far above current staffing.