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Rethinking the U.S.-Mexico Border

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On Friday, November 13th, some influential thinkers from both the United States and Mexico gathered at the Woodrow Wilson Center Mexico Institute to discuss how our two nations must begin Rethinking the U.S.-Mexico Border. 

The current model, as described by former Deputy Foreign Secretary of the Government of Mexico Andrés Rozental, is a system characterized by “irritation, inefficiency, illegality, and now, violence.” Moving forward, he stated, we need “cooperative solutions to shared problems.”

Júarez, Mexico is experiencing unheard of levels of violence this year. Levels we all wish were unknown in our world. Yet as we wade through the sensationalist media onslaughts proclaiming anarchy in Mexico and spillover violence, we must remember two things. El Paso remains one of the safest cities for its size in the U.S., and the border between these sister cities is a place of positive exchange.

At the conference, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, reminded individuals of a recent ban on assault rifles ending in 2004. In direct correlation to lifting that ban, Sarukhan argued, Mexico saw seizures of assault rifles go through the roof! For many, the United States has not done enough to keep deadly weapons from traveling southward across the border.

Mexico must also take steps forward. Arturo Sarukhan emphasized the need for progress by Mexican customs officers to realize a paradigm shift from obtaining revenue to ensuring security. At LAWG, we believe police reform at the municipal level, including establishing greater citizen oversight of police forces, is essential to ensure respect for human rights.

As you can see, addressing rising violence at the border requires “cooperative solutions to shared problems.”

When it comes to illegality, most people think of immigration. October 29th, students, advocates, and academics gathered at Georgetown University to discuss the Crisis at Our Borders: The Human Reality behind the Immigration Debate. Frank Sharry, Founder and Executive Director of America’s Voice, reminded those in attendance that how you diagnose a problem affects the solution you define.

We have all heard the boisterous voices that attack undocumented migrants as criminals and illegal aliens worthy of deportation. Their message seeks to remind us that we are, after all, a nation of laws. And in a nation of laws, those who break the law are criminals.

Frank Sharry challenged listeners to notice the crucial assumption made in that argument: that we have good laws. If you understand migration as bad people breaking good laws, then the logical solution would be to step up enforcement. But what happens when the laws are bad, or in this case, out of date? You suddenly find yourself in a world where good people are subjected to bad laws. And the only treatment for that diagnosis is reform!

Up to this point, as recognized in Sec. Napolitano’s recent remarks, the U.S. has invested billions of dollars and dedicated thousands of officers to “hold the line.” Rather than evaluate our broken immigration system, our sole strategy has been to beef up enforcement and build walls.

To begin resolving the irritation, inefficiency, and illegality currently felt within the migration debate, the U.S. must embrace comprehensive immigration reform as a complement to border security enforcement and work cooperatively with Mexico to address the root causes of migration that force thousands of honest, innocent people every year to journey northward.

So, how should we progress in Rethinking the U.S.-Mexico Border? You guessed it, “cooperative solutions to shared problems.”