AP Photo / Eric Gay

Misconception 4:
Threats at the U.S.-Mexico border demand a big border-wide Border Patrol increase

To evaluate that claim, we need to look at potential cross-border threats. Four are most cited: undocumented migration, drugs, “spillover” violence from Mexico, and terrorism.

The U.S.-Mexico border is a much different place than it was when the Clinton administration began expanding Border Patrol in the early 1990s. It has changed, too, since the Bush administration accelerated that expansion after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Undocumented migration has fallen to a small fraction of what it was 15 or 20 years ago. Trade has multiplied. New technologies are changing the way vigilance works. Ports of entry have grown in importance and can’t keep up with demand, whether for smooth cross-border commerce or for detection of illicit flows. Border Patrol is struggling to avoid shrinking without relaxing new hires’ integrity standards. And the agency’s current geographical deployment seems to reflect the way cross-border flows looked in the 1990s and 2000s.

The Trump administration proposes to address this new reality by returning to the same recipe of the past 25 years. It wants yet another across-the-board increase in Border Patrol staffing. And it wants it to happen with reduced scrutiny of agents’ background and performance. This is a misguided proposal. It springs from some basic misconceptions, and it requires an urgent re-thinking.