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Texas border czar says we need to ‘separate immigration from border security’

(TND) — The “border czar” of Texas told USA Today this week that, “First and foremost, we need to separate immigration from border security.”

The reporter asked Mike Banks, a former Border Patrol official who was named last year as special advisor on border matters to the governor, to expand on what he meant when he said we need to separate immigration from border security.

“It’s far past time for the U.S. government to come up with comprehensive immigration reform,” he said.

The parties need to find a system that works for migrants, the American population and workforce, and more, he said.

“What we can’t do is have open borders in between the ports of entry where anyone can come through,” Banks said. “And the federal government is inviting this to continue happening.”

Is he right? Are immigration and border security separate issues?

“No, I think any comprehensive immigration reform proposal over the last 20 years has included some border security, border enforcement, a set of provisions,” said Kevin R. Johnson, an expert in immigration law and policy at UC Davis. “And it wouldn’t be comprehensive if it didn’t deal with the border.”

David Bier, an immigration and border security expert at the Cato Institute, gave a similar answer Friday.

“Border security is intimately tied up with the fact that our illegal immigration system is failing,” Bier said. “I mean, the fact that we have no way for people to come legally creates the illegal immigration problem at the border, so they are tied up together.”

Banks also told USA Today that “cartels (are) weaponizing immigration against the forces on the border, whether it be Border Patrol, the state of Texas, any other law enforcement. They’re weaponizing the migrants, holding them back, pushing them across at certain times, in order to overwhelm the system.”

Bier said cartels are extorting migrants, taking advantage of their vulnerabilities for financial gain.

But Bier didn’t characterize it as “weaponizing” the migrants.

Bier said the Mexican cartels aren’t helping migrants. They control the territory in which migrants must pass to get to the U.S. border, and the cartels don’t let the migrants pass freely.

“I don’t really think they are looking at it as a way of attacking the forces on the other side,” Bier said. “They don’t care who’s on the other side. They care about making the money from the people who are coming through.”

Johnson said there are powerful push and pull factors fueling the high levels of migration at our southern border.

The American economy “is a magnet to the world” for migrants fleeing violence or oppression in other countries, he said.

“There may well be more economic turmoil, political turmoil in perhaps Venezuela, perhaps Honduras, and we’ll probably see various ebbs and flows over the next few years,” Johnson said. “And that’s been the U.S.-Mexico border for the last 20, 25 years. So, I don’t see anything changing.”

FILE – Migrants wait for shuttle buses for transport as they join hundreds of migrants gathering along the border Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023, in Lukeville, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

We saw a record of around 302,000 southwest border crossings this past December.

Encounters fell to between about 176,000 and around 190,000 in each of the last three months. But southern border crossings have reached new levels over the last couple of years.

Here’s a look at the last decade of southwest border encounters/apprehensions, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (fiscal years):

2023: 2.5 million

2022: 2.4 million

2021: 1.7 million

2020: 458,088

2019: 977,509

2018: 521,090

2017: 415,517

2016: 553,378

2015: 444,859

2014: 569,237

Historical data shows there were points in the 1980s and ‘90s when apprehensions peaked at around a million and a half per year.

Last month, the Border Patrol recorded 137,480 encounters between ports of entry along the southwest border.

We’re going to continue to have a lot of people trying to enter the U.S. unlawfully because they’re not eligible for visas, both Johnson and Bier said.

A path of legal immigration is “entirely closed off” to many of the migrants who cross our border, Bier said.

While both Johnson and Bier dismissed the idea of separating immigration from border security, Bier did say drug smuggling has little to do with our efforts to secure the border or control the flow of migrants.

“The drug trade operates in its lane,” he said. “The migration happens in a different lane.”

Bier estimates at least 80% of Mexican cartel drugs are coming through highly secured, official U.S. ports of entry.

But, he said, we don’t really know about what we don’t catch.

“We’re just looking at the tip of the iceberg that gets seized,” he said.

FILE – A Border Patrol agent uses a dog to inspect a car waiting to pass through the Laredo North vehicle checkpoint in Laredo, Texas, on Friday, February 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Nomaan Merchant)

There once was a time when marijuana smuggling between ports of entry was prominent, he said. Marijuana is bulky and pungent, and it’s hard to conceal in trucks going through official checkpoints.

But that market has largely dried up with the growing legalization of cannabis in the U.S.

Other drugs have always been trafficked primarily through ports of entry, hidden inside gigantic tractor-trailers or inside a tire of a personal vehicle, Bier said. And that continues to be the case.

Bier previously wrote that U.S. citizens accounted for over 86% of convicted fentanyl drug traffickers, which was 10 times greater than convictions of illegal immigrants for the same offense.

Over 90% of fentanyl seizures occur at legal crossing points or interior vehicle checkpoints, not on illegal migration routes, he said.

American citizens are subject to less scrutiny when crossing, which makes them the best smugglers, he said.

Source: CBS