Immigration and Border Control

18 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2013

See all articles by Edward Alden

Edward Alden

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)

Date Written: January 1, 2012


For the past two decades the United States, a country with a strong tradition of limited government, has been pursuing a widely popular initiative that requires one of the most ambitious expansions of government power in modern history: securing the nation’s borders against illegal immigration. Congress and successive administrations — both Democratic and Republican — have increased the size of the Border Patrol from fewer than 3,000 agents to more than 21,000, built nearly 700 miles of fencing along the southern border with Mexico, and deployed pilotless drones, sensor cameras, and other expensive technologies aimed at preventing illegal crossings at the land borders. The government has overhauled the visa system to require interviews for all new visa applicants and instituted extensive background checks for many of those wishing to come to the United States to study, travel, visit family, or do business. It now requires secure documents — a passport or the equivalent — for all travel to and from the United States by citizens and noncitizens. And border officers take fingerprints and run other screening measures on all travelers coming to this country by air in order to identify criminals, terrorists, or others deemed to pose a threat to the United States.

The questions for Congress and the Obama administration in the near future ought to be these: What are the goals of border control? How much is enough? How much can we afford? How can the economic costs of tighter border enforcement best be mitigated? How can better legal immigration and temporary work programs help to reduce further the illegal migration problem? Unfortunately, in the current political environment such questions are not being asked. Instead, Congress and the administration continue to be focused on the elusive goal of creating a perfectly secure border through enforcement measures alone.

Keywords: U.S. border control, Mexican border, illegal immigration, illegal aliens, Texas border control, American immigration policy

JEL Classification: J61, K37, J15

Suggested Citation

Alden, Edward, Immigration and Border Control (January 1, 2012). Cato Journal, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2012, Available at SSRN:

Edward Alden (Contact Author)

Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) ( email )

The Harold Pratt House
58 East 68th Street
New York, NY 10021
United States

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