I am pleased that we are closer to comprehensive immigration reform, but I am concerned that key border security provisions in the Senate bill will harm the border and, by extension, Texas and the rest of the nation.
Throwing another $46 billion in taxpayer dollars toward so-called border security, including more walls and untested technology and doubling the size of the Border Patrol, will have profound consequences for the city I represent, El Paso, and the entire state. If you want a jobs bill for the defense contractors that will build the wall and deploy various technologies, the Senate bill is for you. If you want a truly secure border, the Senate bill needs a lot of work.
Consider the facts on the ground: El Paso is the safest big city in the country, followed by San Diego. Both also happen to be binational cities with the second- and third-busiest land ports of entry along the Southwest border, respectively. Northbound apprehensions have decreased nearly 70 percent in the last seven years, and southbound deportations are at historic highs. In 2005, the average Border Patrol agent apprehended 106 individuals per year. Last year that number was 17, and in the El Paso sector it is was only 3.5. What will the 20,000 new agents actually do? Border security is already an $18 billion enterprise and surpasses all other federal law enforcement activities combined.
We have already reached a point of diminishing returns, and instead of smart investments that are good for the nation and Texas, the Senate bill offers wasteful spending that does little more than assuage unfounded fears about the border that are reinforced by misguided legislation such as this.
Our current border policies are killing people. The dramatic increase in security along the border during the last decade has caused a surge in migrant deaths, including 477 last year and 5,000 people during the last 15, as they get pushed farther into remote areas. Militarization of the border means that a migrant today is eight times more likely to die than just 10 years ago. The current border policies that the Senate bill doubles-down on also support a booming business for human trafficking organizations, mostly run by drug cartels, which promise safe passage. These humanitarian crises will only worsen with the massive military style build-up envisioned in the Senate bill.
Although we welcome attention and investment along the border, the obsessive focus on security between the ports of entry ignores the fact that 99 percent of border crossings are legitimate and that the $460 billion in trade between the U.S. and Mexico is an economic engine, especially in our state with 463,000 jobs dependent upon such trade. We could create even more job growth by clearing the current logjams at our ports of entry where outdated infrastructure, understaffing and inefficient use of technology create hours-long delays.
In El Paso, for example, Mexican nationals crossing from Juárez to shop pump $1.5 billion into our downtown economy every year, supporting businesses and our tax base. But faced with two-hour waits in 100-degree heat, many of these individuals will choose not to shop in El Paso.
For just a fraction of what the Senate proposes to spend on walls and placing Border Patrol agents we do not need in the desert, we could modernize our ports of entry and fully realize the immense potential of our relationship with Mexico.
Fixing our immigration system and uniting families is the right thing to do. Sacrificing our border communities and our economic vitality by creating one of the most militarized borders in the world in order to get this bill across the finish line is not. Texas and the nation deserve a bill that is rational, humane and fiscally responsible.
Beto O'Rourke is a U.S. representative for Congressional District 16, which includes most of the city of El Paso.