March 1, 2019 – The president’s recent declaration of a national emergency to grab billions of dollars to spend on the Southwest border elicited a lot of anger, angst, and support. While the majority of Republicans support the action, a majority of Americans oppose it. A bipartisan group of national security leaders issued a statement opposing the action as unjustified and unwise. A group of Republican former lawmakers wrote an open letter urging Congress to pass a joint resolution terminating the national emergency. And earlier this week, the House of Representatives passed just such a resolution of disapproval. We are watching the Senate to see what comes next.

But for all of the drama, the reality is that billions of dollars have been going to the border over the last few decades. During our nearly 25-year history we’ve followed various plans for border security: From SBInet to the Secure Fence Act, from US-VISIT to immigration reform. And every attempt, including the most recent one had at least one thing in common – waste of taxpayer dollars and outright fraud by government contractors.

Between Fiscal Year 2007 and Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 Uncle Sam spent $9.7 billion on the construction of barriers on the Southwest border – not including the additional costs of technology and increased personnel. The Trump Administration is now proposing to spend approximately $8 billion more on border barriers. Never forget, that’s your money.

Considering the stakes, we want this to be an informed debate. So we brought it all together in a handy dandy brief: Border Security: History & Issues for the 116th Congress, that pulls together all the facts about illegal immigration into the United States, issues with drug interdiction, previous border construction initiatives, a history of Border Patrol staffing numbers, surveillance technologies (past and present) and the president’s initiative.

Remember, the billion-dollar border grab for a wall is being justified as an emergency. It’s not law, but the Office of Management and Budget has defined an emergency as meeting five criteria (all of them): Necessary; sudden; urgent; unforeseen; and not permanent. Looking at the facts, this declaration falls far short. Here are a few facts you can throw around at your next cocktail party or Facebook fight:

  • Over the last 20 years, while the number of legal immigrants into the United States has stayed roughly stable, the number of people attempting to enter the country illegally has declined dramatically.
  • In FY2000 1.6 million undocumented immigrants were apprehended at the Southwest border. By FY2017 that number had dropped to just under 304,000 apprehensions – 18 percent of the FY2000 level.
  • Most unauthorized foreigners in the United States are people who came in through legal ports of entry (such as an airport) and have overstayed their visas. This problem will not be fixed by physical barriers on the Southwest border.
  • According to the Drug Enforcement Administration most of the cocaine, heroin, fentanyl, and methamphetamine flows into the United States in privately owned vehicles and commercial tractor-trailers entering through legal ports of entry. A notable exception is that most of the marijuana does enter the country at remote sites on the Southwest border.
  • Border Patrol staffing is slated to rise from a statutorily-established minimum of 21,370 agents to 26,370 agents by the end of Fiscal Year 2021. The Government Accountability Office reports the Border Patrol has consistently had problems with achieving the required minimum staffing levels.
  • Going back at least twenty years, the federal government has struggled to maintain current surveillance technology over long distances and in the sometimes harsh weather conditions of the Southern border. Many billions of dollars have been spent on technologies that either didn’t work or were quickly obsolete.
  • There are already nearly 700 miles of border barriers in higher trafficked areas.
  • Wall construction on most areas of the border without existing structures will require costly eminent domain to seize private land and construction that in many cases will block access for irrigation.

Before more billions of dollars are shifted from military construction projects and other federal initiatives, Congress must take a hard look at recent history and current statistics. Decisions cannot be made on emotions or distorted “facts.” Not another taxpayer dollar should be spent until then.

Taxpayers for Common Sense is a independent, nonpartisan budget watchdog that has served as an independent voice for the American taxpayer since 1995.  We believe in fiscal policy based on facts.