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We need to cross Mexican border to make things better

Jan. 24, 2011 at 5:03 p.m.
Updated Jan. 23, 2011 at 7:24 p.m.

Solving the borderproblem requires dispelling its myths.

The Mexican border is like a decapitated body searching for a head. Belonging to both the United States and Mexico, it is governed fully by neither and partially by both. Confusion and overlapping responsibilities are inherent, and, usually, nothing gets done.

Maybe it's time to think a little harder.

Current discourse surrounding the border is dishonest and hyperbolic, in part because many people don't understand what's happening south of the Rio Grande.

First, the threat of spillover violence is exaggerated. While it is true that there have been isolated incidents of cartel activities north of the border, the situation in South Texas does not even come close to that present in North Mexico.

In Texas, there are no beheadings, no mass graves and no perceived failure of rule of law. Fortunately, citizens' worst fears have yet to be realized, and there is no reason to think that it is "only a matter of time" until the bloodbath begins. Take, for example, Ciudad Juárez and El Paso. The former is one of the deadliest cities in the world; the latter is one of the safest in the United States. If the violence were to spread, El Paso would be the first to see signs. But so far, it hasn't.

Second, the U.S. federal government is not entirely shirking its duties. State politicians like to paint the Obama administration as the evil villain, who is not sending enough troops to the border and thus failing to protect American citizens from harm.

But that story is not entirely accurate. In many respects, the U.S. federal government is the one leading Mexico's war. The United States has significant intelligence operations within Mexico, and through Plan Mérida, it funds Mexican armed forces, aircraft and law enforcement training programs. Furthermore, Texas relies on federal funding to enact many of its own border policies, and funding has increased since President Obama took office.

This is not to say that Texans shouldn't be concerned. Even though Mexican immigration has decreased of late, illegal immigrants still entail substantial costs - in education, health care, and other state services - that taxpayers have no business paying for. But exaggerating the threat of violence, blaming the feds and enacting short-sighted policy fixes will do little to stem the tide of crime, drugs and undocumented workers that Texans fear.

What policymakers need to realize is that, even with more border checkpoints, bans on sanctuary cities, English as the official language, and increased enforcement of immigration law, Mexican migration won't disappear. These restrictions mean relatively little to most who decide to cross the border. This is because the United States remains a more hopeful place than their home country. In Texas, particularly, opportunities abound.

If Texas lawmakers are serious about establishing border security, their policies can't stop at the Rio Grande. Before they can solve the border, officials must be willing to cross it.

Bilateral diplomacy with Mexican officials would be a good start. Mexican institutions are weak and lack the capacity to effectively check the power of increasingly sophisticated drug cartels. So how about a state entity that directly engages Mexican officials and explores collaborative solutions? It's been done before - the 1940s Good Neighbor Commission, a Texas state agency, did exactly that.

So to Texas lawmakers, I say this: Go to Mexico. Find out what Texas judges, police forces and prison administrators can offer their Mexican counterparts in terms of training, best practices or information sharing.

Just think if such efforts were even partially successful.

The result would be a safer society in North Mexico and one more likely to hold on to its own citizens. In essence, Texas would beat the feds at their own game. We do foreign policy, too, but we do it better.

Rick Perry has called this the Texas Century. A Texas-led transformation on the border would be noteworthy proof.

A Dallas native, F. Cartwright Weiland just finished a research assignment in Mexico City. He graduated in 2008 from Duke University and is currently a second-year student at Harvard Law School.



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