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Homeland Security: Immigration and the Border

The U.S. is bordered to the North by Canada and to the South by Mexico. The border between the U.S. and Mexico is 1,969 miles long, stretching from Imperial Beach, California to Brownsville, Texas. The border between the United States and Canada is officially known as the International Boundary and is the longest border in the world, consisting of 5,525 miles, including 1,538 miles along the Alaskan-Canadian border. Civilian law enforcement enforces the Canadian-U.S. border, known as the world’s longest undefended border, militarily speaking. The Mexican border is defended by U.S. Border Control officers and has become very dangerous due to the rise in narcotics, arms and human trafficking.

Crossing the Border

An estimated 11.2 million people in the United States are considered illegal immigrants, making up over five percent of all U.S. workers—about eight million. Nearly 60 percent of all illegal immigrants come from Mexico. These figures do not account for undocumented workers. Many immigrants come to the U.S. seeking work or to escape poor political or economic climates within their own country. There is a specific immigration process leading to naturalization that includes various forms, including work permits and green cards, and financial documentation that establishes your ability to support yourself while in the United States or while becoming a U.S. citizen.

Canadian and Mexican Borders

Drug smuggling has become an issue on both the Canadian and Mexican borders. Many in the U.S. blame border problems on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which removed most trade barriers among Mexico, Canada and the U.S. Many believe that NAFTA reduced wages in Mexico; so Mexican workers flee to the U.S. to look for work. Others argue that Mexican wages have risen since NAFTA was enacted in 1994. Although NAFTA has created commonalities economically for both the United States’ northern and southern borders, the Canadian and Mexican borders are quite different, not just in length, but in perception and use. The Canadian border is perceived to be safer than the Mexican border, although drug smuggling, notably methamphetamines, marijuana and cocaine, continues to be an issue on both borders.

Border Patrol and Barriers

The Department of Homeland Security now controls much of the Canadian and Mexican borders. With the advent of renewed terrorism threats since 9/11, new border controls have been initiated that mandate higher levels of documentation for U.S. citizens traveling to and from Canada or Mexico; as well as Canadian and Mexican travel into and out of the United States. Border patrol officers along the Mexican-U.S. border every day capture and return Mexicans attempting to cross the border illegally. The U.S.-Mexican border relationship continues to be tense as violence and death continue to straddle the border and permeate either side of it. Lawmakers still waver back and forth on whether a border wall or fence makes sense at this point. The relationship along the Canadian-U.S. border seems tranquil by contrast.

Border Issues and Political Spats

One of the greatest on-going issues among U.S. lawmakers continues to be funding healthcare for undocumented workers. Arizona decided to crack down on undocumented workers and was forced into a showdown in the Supreme Court, which upheld the state’s right to penalize businesses hiring workers in the United States illegally in May 2011. Another issue includes whether children of undocumented workers should automatically be considered U.S. citizens. Another issue continues to be the dehumanization of immigrants by profiling and labeling as illegal aliens.