At the border itself, all this talk seems otherworldly. At a “processing centre” in El Paso, where the fingerprints of those caught crossing from Mexico illegally are taken and checked against various databases, there is precious little processing going on. Of the 20-odd workstations, only two are manned. The Border Patrol agents sitting at them chat idly to themselves. Just two detainees, their paperwork complete, sit timidly in the corner of an enormous holding cell. An adjacent cell for women stands empty.The drop in arrests reflects not laxer enforcement, but stronger. There are over 17,000 Border Patrol agents on the border with Mexico, a fivefold increase over 1993. They patrol in cars and all-terrain vehicles, on bicycles and horses, in boats, planes and helicopters. When there are no agents around, cameras, reconnaissance drones and three different types of sensors—seismic, magnetic and infra-red—keep tabs on things. A third of the border is fenced, and most of the rest is in areas so remote or rugged as to make fences pointless or impractical. Some parts of the fence are 17 feet high, with metal plates extending ten feet below ground to prevent tunnelling.So, their point is that the US Government has, in fact, spent a lot of money "securing" the border. Is that really why there are fewer people coming north? Probably not. Princeton's Doug Massey has been reminding us for years that those measures work largely to make it more expensive for people to cross the border, which means that once they get into the US (as most do eventually) they are not as likely to return as they were in the past. Thus, these restrictions have the unintended side-effect of actually increasing the resident population of undocumented immigrants.
To the credit of the Economist, though, they did give Doug Massey the last word in their article:
Historically, says Doug Massey of Princeton University, the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico correlates most closely with economic growth in America and with the number of visas handed out, not with increased policing of the border. The whole thing is a colossal waste of money, he complains.