Border Security Theater?

Barro analyzes the compromise being worked out:

The basic outline of the deal is this: Democrats agreed to spend as much money on border security as Republicans wanted (some $30 billion over 10 years) so long as Republicans agreed that there wouldn’t be consequences if the security doesn’t work.

It’s not as dumb a deal as it sounds like.

This approach substitutes for one that many Senate Republicans had previously been demanding in exchange for supporting the immigration bill: A “hard trigger” that only activated the path to citizenship for previously-unauthorised immigrants once border security was apprehending 90% of people trying to cross the border illegally.

Brad Plumer adds:

It’s not clear what all this extra staff and technology will do for border security. There are also good questions about whether the Department of Homeland Security can even train that many guards, or whether there’s actually room for 700 miles of fence — Corker called the provisions “almost overkill.” But for Republicans looking to convince their base that they’re taking border security seriously, overkill might be exactly what they need.

Yglesias is skeptical that more border enforcement will do much good:

Visa overstayers are already a large share of the unauthorized population, and creating a guest-worker program is going to increase the possibility of visa overstaying. You could build the Berlin Wall all across the U.S.–Mexico border and you’re not going to solve anything. What you need to do is either increase the number of W Visas (my preference) or increase behind-the-border security or some combination of the two. Personally, I don’t really care that a border surge is going to be ineffective. But it can get corrosive in the long term if you promise the voters something your legislation can’t deliver. If this bill passes, the immigration-enforcement problem won’t be at the border.

Reihan agrees that focusing exclusively on the border is counterproductive:

Not surprisingly, my preference would be for much more stringent behind-the-border security and for the elimination of the guest-worker program, but my preferred policy option has many serious downsides, e.g., the enforcement measurements it would likely require would be expensive, draconian, and potentially intrusive. Canada, for example, imposes a one-year mandatory prison sentence on unauthorized immigrants, which seems impracticable in the U.S. context.

And Ed Krayewski argues that, if “the Border Patrol is underfunded (big if), it’s because they have to pursue drug cartels and human traffickers operating along the border”:

Real immigration reform would mean liberalizing immigration laws to make it easier to enter the United States legally. Appropriately implemented, immigration reform should cut down significantly on human trafficking at the border. Once it is easier to go the legal route than to hire a coyote, the human trafficking problem should largely take care of itself.

Though he would prefer to deal with the drug trafficking issue by ending the war on drugs, he goes on to note that, “if the Border Patrol is mandated to pursue narcotraffickers and terrorists along the border, easing the demand for illegal entry (by lowering the cost of legal entry) ought to allow the Border Patrol to focus on those narrower problems.”