The United States has spent more than $106 billion on securing and militarizing its Southwest border over the last five years. The Arizona Republic explores what the country has gained from its investment in a 650-mile iron curtain and the doubling of the number of Border Patrol agents, to 18,500. They have erected scores of surveillance towers and planted thousands of hidden sensors. They have added an armada of drones, aircraft, canine teams, horse patrols, checkpoints and vehicle patrols that range up to 60 miles from the actual border to arrest migrants and catch drug smugglers. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says the border is more secure now ever.
As the U.S. Senate begins work on a bill to overhaul immigration laws, skeptics — particularly Arizona Republicans — say any changes must be predicated on making the border still more secure, and on finding a definitive measure for when it is secure enough. But beyond the statistics, a border picture emerges that suggests the costs of securing the border already have been extraordinarily high, not just in dollars, but in lives. It suggests that all of this security has done little to stanch the flow of millions of pounds of drugs north — or of 250,000 guns a year and billions of dollars south. And it suggests, as those who have studied this issue closely maintain, that locking down the entire border would be prohibitively expensive and still fail to halt drug smuggling.