border picA sticking point in current and past immigration reform proposals has been the misguided belief that a legalization program for unauthorized immigrants cannot proceed until the border is “secure.”  The immigration framework developed by the Senate “Group of 8” introduces that same sticky framework by proposing to create certain border-security benchmarks that must be met before a legalization program can begin. Not only has this not worked in the past, given that benchmarks from multiple past proposals have actually already been met, but creating a truly “secure border” actually requires a new understanding of what the problems are at the border.

Former Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard provides a new way of thinking about the issue in a series of papers that lay out what true border security means. He suggests focusing less on unauthorized immigrants and more on the dangerous criminal cartels that are smuggling drugs into the country, and money and guns back out. Goddard emphasizes that decoupling immigration from border security is important and he recommends federal action that targets cartel money, closes money-laundering loopholes, pursues cartel leaders, and focuses on border security at ports of entry. For the unauthorized immigrants already in the United States, Goddard argues it makes more sense to bring them out of the shadows and give them some sort of legal status, so they are no longer as easily exploited by the cartels.

David Shirk, Director of the Trans-Border Institute, explains that no specific policy decision to beef up border security in the last 20 to 30 years has significantly reduced the illicit flow of drugs and people into the United States. Today, tougher border security has resulted in an increasing number of unauthorized immigrants who choose to stay in the United States rather than risk multiple, ever more arduous trips. Shirk, like Goddard, points out that tougher border security has been a boon to the sophisticated, heavily armed, trans‐national criminal organizations that specialize in moving drugs, contraband, and people across the heavily fortified border. Therefore, giving immigrants legal channels for entering and exiting the United States is key to making our border safer.

In other words, it is illogical to set security benchmarks that precede legalization because only with legalization can you achieve true border security. Additionally, Congressional benchmarks are a constantly moving target because regardless of how many of them you meet, there will always be more. In fact, according to a recent report from the American Immigration Lawyers Association, all of the preconditions for border security set by immigration bills that failed to pass earlier in the decade have already been met.