Everything You Need to Know About the Mexico-United States Border

Everything You Need to Know About the Mexico-United States Border

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The border between the United States and Mexico stretches for nearly 2,000 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean and touches the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The Rio Grande runs along 1,254 miles of the border, but west of El Paso, Texas, the boundary lacks a natural geographic barrier except for a small stretch along the Colorado River.

Approximately 700 miles of barbed wire, chain link, post-and-rail and wire mesh fencing has been erected along the U.S.-Mexico border. The U.S. Border Patrol also utilizes thousands of cameras and underground sensors as well as aircraft, drones and boats to monitor the boundary.

After winning its independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico stretched as far north as the Oregon Territory. The secession of Texas in 1836, however, marked the beginning of the loss of Mexican territory that would become the present-day U.S. Southwest.

The War with Mexico
U.S. President James K. Polk captured the White House in 1844 on a pledge to fulfill America’s “Manifest Destiny” to stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. Relations with Mexico deteriorated after the United States annexed Texas in 1845. When Mexico refused an American offer to purchase California and New Mexico for $30 million, Polk dispatched 4,000 troops into land north of the Rio Grande and south of the Nueces River claimed by both countries.

Following a Mexican cavalry attack in the disputed territory on April 25, 1846, that left 16 American soldiers dead or wounded, the United States declared war on Mexico. After a series of bloody battles and sieges, American forces captured the Mexican capital in September 1847.

Under the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico formally recognized the American annexation of Texas and agreed to sell more than one-third of its territory. For $15 million and the assumption of certain damage claims, the United States purchased more than a half million square miles that would encompass all or most of the future states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah as well as portions of present-day Colorado, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Kansas.

The Establishment of the U.S.-Mexico Border
The modern border took shape following the Mexican-American War. While the Rio Grande formed the dividing line between Texas and Mexico, the border originally moved west from El Paso on a straight line to the Gila River and then on another straight line to the Pacific Ocean south of San Diego. Following the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, the borders of Arizona and New Mexico moved further south from the Gila River.

A team of surveyors, soldiers and officials from both countries staked out the border from El Paso to Tijuana. According to Rachel St. John, an associate professor of history at UC Davis and author of Line in the Sand: A History of the Western U.S.-Mexico Border, the joint boundary commission underestimated the cost and time it would take to complete the project through such an inhospitable terrain of mountains, canyons and desert. Not until the late 1850s did the boundary commission complete its work.

VIDEO: Battle of Palo Alto America was ready to expand westward, even if it meant going to war. Learn how and why the Mexican-American War happened.

U.S. Immigration Policy
There were no federal limits on immigration in the decades following the Mexican-American War as citizens from both countries passed freely across the border. It was Chinese immigrants, not Mexicans, that American authorities and vigilante groups first sought to keep from illegally crossing its southern border after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. “One of the ways that immigrants from China would try to get across the border is to learn a few words of Spanish and disguise themselves as Mexican,” St. John says.

“Restrictions on the movement of Mexican citizens were not particularly enforced by the U.S. government until the decade of the Mexican Revolution in the 1910s when large numbers of refugees came to escape the war and there was a large demand for Mexican labor,” St. John says. Following Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa’s deadly raid on Columbus, New Mexico, in 1916 and the subsequent publication of the Zimmerman Telegram proposing a World War I military alliance between Mexico and Germany, the United States tightened border security and deployed soldiers to patrol the boundary along with the Texas Rangers and government-sanctioned “home guards.”

According to St. John, the U.S. Bureau of Animal Industry erected the first fence along the frontier in 1909 to stop the trans-border movement of cattle. Border towns erected fences during the 1910s, but less as a physical barrier to entry than to denote the boundary line and channel people into designated crossing points. The United States began the installation of border fences to restrict the movement of unlawful immigrants and drugs in 1993 when President Bill Clinton mandated the construction of a 14-mile barrier between San Diego and Tijuana. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 authorized the construction of 700 miles of border fencing and vehicle barriers, which was completed in 2011.

Future Plans for the Border
Approximately 11.6 million Mexican immigrants resided in the United States in 2016, about half of them in the country illegally, according to Pew Research Center estimates. The centerpiece of President Donald Trump’s immigration plan is the construction of an “impenetrable, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful, southern border wall,” but the project faces funding, environmental and eminent domain obstacles.

While Trump asserts the construction of a new 1,000 miles of wall as high as 55 feet tall through remote, mountainous terrain can be built for $18 billion, an analysis published in MIT Technology Review estimates the cost to be $40 billion. The Mexican government stated that it would not pay for the wall’s construction, as Trump repeatedly pledged during the 2016 presidential campaign, and Congress contributed only $1.6 billion to the project in March 2018.

In April 2018, President Donald Trump ordered National Guard troops deployed to the border until further progress is made on construction of the wall. The move was not unprecedented as his predecessors George W. Bush and Barack Obama also sent the National Guard to assist with border security.

Mexico–United States barrier

The Mexico–United States barrier (Spanish: barrera México–Estados Unidos), also known as the border wall, is a series of vertical barriers along the Mexico–United States border intended to reduce illegal immigration to the United States from Mexico. [1] The barrier is not a continuous structure but a series of obstructions variously classified as "fences" or "walls". [2]

Between the physical barriers, security is provided by a "virtual fence" of sensors, cameras, and other surveillance equipment used to dispatch United States Border Patrol agents to suspected migrant crossings. [3] In May 2011, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) stated that it had 649 miles (1,044 km) of barriers in place. [4] An additional 52 miles of primary barriers were built during Donald Trump's presidency. [5] The total length of the national border is 1,954 miles (3,145 km).

29 Facts About the Border and Mexican Cartels You Need to Know

17,656 Breitbart/Brandon Darby

As the debate about the construction of a wall and other border security issues, here are 29 facts that you need to know. The topics came up during the most recent episode of “Coffee with Scott Adams.” Brandon Darby, the Managing Editor for Breitbart’s Border and Cartel Chronicles, sat down with the famed creator of the Dilbert comics to discuss the intricacies of border security.

Scott Adams talks with Brandon Darby about the border situation, and I tell you my progress on climate. With coffee. https://t.co/cufXEZXpBW

— Scott Adams (@ScottAdamsSays) January 8, 2019

1) No one is proposing a wall between all of Mexico and the U.S.—the U.S. southern border is approximately 2,000 miles. The discussion is about 1,000 miles of physical barriers in regions that are heavily controlled by drug cartels.

2) The Texas border is about 1,200 miles of the approximately 2,000 miles of the total southern border. Most of that border is the Rio Grande, a river which varies in intensity with respect to currents.

3) Mexico has numerous states under the direct influence of drug cartels that have standing armies with access to RPGs, armored vehicles, artillery, and explosives. Most of Mexico has military forces patrolling streets to deal with cartel paramilitary forces.

4) The most violent drug cartels operate south of the Texas border. Factions of Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel routinely allow their violence to spill over to the average person.

5) The border city of Tijuana has some of the highest murder statistics in all of Mexico. Despite record-setting figures, most of the victims tend to be tied to drug trafficking.

6) Border cities south of Texas like Reynosa, Tamaulipas, have much lower murder rates than Tijuana. Despite the difference, average citizens are often touched by cartels including shootouts, kidnappings, and other violent activities.

7) Most of the efforts by drug cartels to control migration happens South of the Texas border. Criminal organizations like the Reynosa faction of the Gulf Cartel profit more from human smuggling than drug trafficking.

8) The majority of tunnels are found on the Arizona and California borders. The tunnels are generally discovered in areas where there are population centers on both sides of the border and a wall or fence is already in place. Few have been found in Texas, where there is a river.

9) Most tunnels are discovered thanks to informants law enforcement technology has rarely been successful in locating border tunnels.

10) Most of the border does not have a drug tunnel problem. They are typically found in Douglas and Nogales, Arizona, as well as Mexicali, San Diego/San Isidro, California.

11) Cartels spend a lot of money building a tunnel–only to be discovered shortly after.

12) Claims by Democrats about the low crime rates in El Paso are an example of walls working. In areas with considerable border barriers such as El Paso, the regional criminal groups turn more professional and shy away from illegal immigration to traffic harder drugs through ports of entry.

13) The presence of physical barriers in cities like El Paso has led to fewer people coming over the border to commit petty crimes or bring loads of drugs on their backs. The criminal organizations in the area shifted toward corrupting U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials to smuggle harder drugs.

14) A partially secured border is more deadly than an open or well-secured one. Previous administrations put barriers south of most cities in Arizona and California to funnel illicit traffic into areas that were easier to manage or too desolate to cross. This led to a spike in deaths since the desire of people to reach the U.S. pushes them to more remote and dangerous areas.

15) Human smuggling and illegal immigration will continue to be a problem until economic opportunities improve in Mexico and in Central America.

16) Mexican transnational criminal groups and their leaders have grown beyond the size and power of the American mafia from Prohibition Era and Al Capone. Cartels are integrated into the Mexican political culture and bureaucracy. Legalization would not stop them.

17) The decriminalization of marijuana and the production of higher quality plants in the U.S. versus Mexico had a series of unspoken consequences. After marijuana from Mexico was not able to compete with U.S.-grown plants, some cartels shifted their model more toward human smuggling–becoming a factor in the 2014 migrant crisis and the current one at the U.S. border.

18) After marijuana decriminalization in the U.S., cartels shifted to increase their cultivation of poppies and the production of black tar heroin. In order to compete with the Asian product, cartels use fentanyl–playing a role in the current opioid overdose epidemic.

19) The U.S. State Department influences how hard authorities crack down on cartels. U.S. agencies have been told to “measure their law enforcement priorities with the State Department’s diplomatic concerns.”

20) A cartel’s power in Mexico comes not from kingpins, but from politicians, financiers, lawyers, and money launderers. U.S. authorities and diplomats routinely focus on kingpins such as “El Chapo” and his lieutenants, but never go after the rest of the circle.

21) The state of Tamaulipas, directly south of Texas, has two former governors currently indicted for their alleged roles in helping cartels. One remains in Mexico, while the other is in U.S. custody awaiting trial.

22) U.S. diplomats are negotiating and playing along with the same Mexican politicians that protect cartels, in the interest of trade and diplomacy.

23) Certain factions of drug cartels have crossed the line into terrorism and should classified as such. The designation would change the way the U.S. alienates them from banks, financial resources, and politicians. Other cartels would be forced to tone down their actions or risk similar consequences.

24) Worries of Middle Eastern terrorists crossing the southwestern border are at times mitigated by cartel members who are informants for U.S. agencies that enjoy handsome incentives to turn people in.

25) The more likely scenario for terrorism deals with people flying into Canada and then entering the U.S. with visas. Most people on the terror watch list who try to enter the U.S. across the southern border are Somalis or Kurds.

26) Certain organizations like Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel present more of an imminent threat than foreign terrorists entering through the southern border.

27) Mexico’s ongoing cartel violence and drug war has led to more murders and disappearances than some international wars. Mexico has suffered more than 250,000 homicides and at least 30,000 disappearances since 2009.

Don&rsquot be shocked if you can&rsquot understand them the first time. They have a thick accent and use unique phrases, and they know it. If you can&rsquot grasp what they&rsquove just said, most will be happy to slow down and repeat it.

But the Scots might think you talk funny, too:

  • Scotland&rsquos capital is Edinburgh. Don&rsquot pronounce it as Ed-in-burg or Ed-in-bor-row. Scots pronounce it as Ed-in-burr-a &hellip or maybe Edin-bra.
  • The main shopping street is Princes Street. It&rsquos named after the royal sons, so don&rsquot call it Princess Street.

While you&rsquore visiting Scotland, you&rsquoll hear words like aye (yes), nae (no), wee (little) and loch (lake). Here, Ben and glen are not men&rsquos names, they mean mountain and valley, respectively.

How Is Save the Children Helping Children at the U.S. Southern Border?

Save the Children does not choose sides – we choose children and will always work to uphold and protect their rights in any crisis or circumstance.

Since May 2019, our programs along the U.S.-Mexico border have directly served more than 142,000 people, including 72,000 children.

4 Things to Know About Children in Crisis at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Egregious policies of the previous administration have specifically targeted children and families seeking refuge. We have witnessed harmful federal government actions, such as separating children from their families, in order to frighten and deter fellow migrants and asylum seekers. Here’s what you need to know about the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the U.S.-Mexico Border.

Seeking asylum is not a crime.

Every child has a right to safety, protection and a future, regardless of who they are or where they’re from. Our nation has long served as a safe harbor for persecuted people, but the past years have eroded that proud legacy.

On February 2, 2021, President Biden signed a series of Executive Orders to put an end to cruel policies that harm children seeking safety at the U.S. southern border, including establishing a task force to reunite children separated from their families. ⁠⁠
This was an important first step to ensuring that immigrant children are treated humanely. ⁠⁠
The new administration and Congress have the opportunity to rebuild a stronger, child-centric asylum and immigration system in America.

Forcibly separating children from their families is a cruel and inhuman policy.

The cruel act of separation can cause severe negative social and emotional consequences for the children and their families in the days, months and years ahead. Our global evidence shows that children living in institutions away from their families are highly vulnerable to emotional, physical and psychological abuse, which can lead to lasting developmental problems, injuries and trauma.

President Biden's formation of a task force to reunify the hundreds of asylum-seeking children forcibly separated from their families will begin to repair the harm and pave the way for a reimagined system incapable of implementing a family separation policy in the future.

Save the Children has helped reunite separated families for many years in the Northern Triangle, and is right now working to support reunification efforts during this crisis.

Border Patrol facilities operated by law enforcement authorities are no place for a child.

As the number of unaccompanied children being taken into border authority custody after crossing the southern border continues to grow, the system is being overwhelmed.

Facilities are overcrowded, with children forced to sleep on cold floors and without access to hygiene and basic support services, all of which makes them dangerous for children.

As defined by law, all facilities hosting unaccompanied children must meet minimum standards of care and provide access to legal, social and physical services and support.

Unaccompanied children must be moved to the care of the Health and Human Services within 72 hours of crossing the border, and receive legal, social and physical services and support.

Every child has a right to safety, protection and a future.

Children should not have to experience the trauma that comes from daily threats, a terrifying journey, forcefully being removed from their parents or being forced to sleep on cold floors and without access to hygiene and basic support services.

Save the Children's current work at the U.S.-Mexico Border features programs to protect children and address their immediate needs, resource support and advocacy.

Through partners, Save the Children is helping deliver immediate humanitarian relief to newly arrived children and families on both sides of the border.

A Timeline of the U.S.-Mexico Border Crisis

2013 - 2014
2013 - 2014

Between October 2013 and September 2014, over 68,500 unaccompanied children from Central America cross into the United States seeking refuge from unimaginable violence, brutal gangs, crushing poverty and other challenges in their home countries. Another 66,000 families — primarily mothers and their children — also arrive at the border after leaving their communities for these same reasons.

At the peak of the exodus in the spring and summer of 2014, children and families overwhelm the capacity of federal agencies charged with processing and providing minimal services for people entering the U.S. across the border.

Save the Children mobilizes a response to address the physical and emotional needs of immigrant children and their mothers.

In the months leading to April 2018, the U.S. government increases restrictions on immigration, with children bearing a significant burden of the policy changes.

In April, the administration announces a new “zero-tolerance” policy toward border crossings that instituted criminal proceedings for every adult caught crossing the border illegally.

The policy forcibly separates more than 2,300 children and their families, causing great trauma and harm. Very young children and adolescents are held in prison-like detention for extended periods with little to no attention to their emotional and physical well-being. Many parents, often mothers traveling with children, are also held in indefinite detention.

As a global leader in supporting family reunifications, Save the Children works to help parents locate and safely reunite with their children, and from there, supports them in getting access to essential services they need to re-establish themselves.

In late 2018, people from Honduras and Guatemala, intent on escaping violence and entrenched poverty, join caravans in the hope of reaching the Mexico-U.S. border.

By mid-year, legislation is proposed for children who arrive at the southern border to be held in federal custody for up to 100 days. Save the Children Action Network (SCAN) CEO Mark Shriver expresses his strong opposition, calling the legislation "a grave violation of children’s rights."

In June 2019, Save the Children Trustee and actress Jennifer Garner visits Save the Children’s newly opened programs in New Mexico, which are helping migrant children and families once they have been released from U.S. government detention centers.

By the end of June, Save the Children and SCAN generate more than 250,000 letters to the Administration and members of Congress, urging action to protect vulnerable children.

Nearly two years on, an estimated 70,000 Central American children and adults are currently “waiting” in border cities like Ciudad Juarez, Nogales and Matamoros, places rife with violence and exploitation that target this population.

Complete border closures in response to COVID-19 further exacerbated the situation so that children and families are immediately turned away without opportunities to make their asylum claims under due process.

March 2020 marks nearly 200,000 people having been “expelled” from the U.S. southern border – including 8,800 unaccompanied children.

In November 2020, the expulsion of unaccompanied children is finally stopped by the courts.

Save the Children urgently calls on the new Biden Administration and members of Congress, regardless of political affiliation, to come together around a shared oath for kids at home and across the world. This includes developing and acting on plans to humanely protect families seeking help on the U.S. southern border.

The number of unaccompanied children taken into border authority custody after crossing the southern border grows dramatically by the day – nearly 15,000 in January and February alone. Thousands of children are being held in short-term law enforcement facilities longer than the 72 hours allowed by law.

In May, the Biden administration announces a crucial step in the right direction – that it will begin to reunite families separated under the prior administration. To date, together with SCAN, our grassroots advocates nationwide send over 683,000 messages to lawmakers, urging them to keep families together.

Why are so many people leaving Honduras?

El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have many similar problems that drive migration from those countries: extreme poverty, starvation, gang violence, violence against women, persecution of the LGBTQ community, political persecution and impunity for those who commit crimes.

There’s also a long history and tradition of migration between those countries and the United States, meaning many migrants have relatives in the United States, even if it’s their first time making the journey north. A Washington Post reporter on the ground with the caravan also found that some were recently deported after having lived in the United States for years and were going back to the lives they know.

Many of these problems date back to the Cold War and U.S. intervention in Central American countries, which resulted in civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador, among other problems that has left the Northern Triangle region politically and economically unstable, Portillo Villeda told me over the summer. Then there were natural disasters, like Hurricane Mitch in 1998, where the flooding killed roughly 7,000 people in Honduras alone.

The caravan that just left Tapachula began in Honduras and by current estimates, is mostly made up of Hondurans. The caravan from the spring was also mostly Hondurans.

In 2009, there was coup d’etat in Honduras, when the Honduran Army followed orders from the Honduran Supreme Court to oust President Manuel Zelaya and send him into exile.

That led to the most violent years on record in the country, starting in 2011, Portillo Villeda said. El Salvador and Honduras started seeing hundreds of women murdered each year, with few investigated at all.

“If you look at records of people being detained and making it through at the border, that is when we see a serious exodus of Hondurans and entry to the U.S.,” she said. “There’s extortion, gangs, but also intrafamilial violence against women. People wanted to get their kids out by 2014.”

That year, 2014, is when the United States saw a sharp increase in unaccompanied minors from Central America arrive at the Texas border. The United States began holding these migrant children on military bases, and images and news stories of the situation grabbed the attention of the American public.

Then last year, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández Alvarado won re-election by a narrow margin that has been widely criticized as fraudulent. A number of people have been killed in post-election protests by government security forces, with no justice in sight, reports The Guardian. The United States supports the disputed leader.

“This country is just trying to survive at this point,” Portillo Villeda said. “It’s really a dire situation for communities. Americans can’t even imagine it.”

Portillo Villeda said that back in 2006, when she was doing research in El Progreso, a city in the Honduran region of Yoro, she would knock on doors in neighborhoods and nearly everyone would have a family member who had gone to the United States.

Now, she said, entire families are leaving. The perpetual corruption has continued to intensify the poverty and insecurity. One in four children in Honduras suffers from chronic malnutrition, according to the United Nations World Food Programme.

“Mostly, the migration patterns we have seen is people will go from countryside to the city and then internationally,” Portillo Villeda said. “Now, we’re seeing people going straight from the countryside, migrating internationally. What we’re seeing now is a complete exit. Their bellies are empty.”

Hunger is also driving increasing numbers of Guatemalan families, especially those from rural areas who don’t speak Spanish, to come, the Washington Post reported last month.

It’s important to note, though, that while families and children are increasingly making the journey north, the United States is still seeing historically low overall apprehension levels at the border, which U.S. officials use as a proxy for overall migration. In other words, the caravans aren’t driving an overall surge in immigrants crossing the border. They are just a different way to make the journey.

The migrants who are coming are just increasingly desperate, as Everard Meade, director of the Trans Border Institute at the University of San Diego, pointed out to me in July.

“If we had a desperation index, it’s never been higher,” Meade said.

2. The White House said the wall is necessary to stop terrorists from entering the country, but most try to enter by air.

Trump said the border wall is necessary in order to stop terrorists from entering the country, even though figures show that most suspected or known terrorists stopped by US authorities traveled by air, not through a land border. The Trump administration said that 3,755 known or suspected terrorists were prevented from entering the US by the Department of Homeland Security in 2017. But DHS later said most of those were trying to enter the US by air, not crossing the border.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders incorrectly said 4,000 terrorists were stopped at the border, but NBC News found DHS figures showing that six — not 4,000 — people encountered by southern border authorities in the first half of 2018 were on the US’s list of known or suspected terrorists.

DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen also said the agency encountered more than 3,000 “special interest aliens” but these people are not confirmed terrorists. They are simply a “non-US person who, based on an analysis of travel patterns, potentially poses a national security risk to the United States or its interests.”

An analysis from the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, found that zero people were murdered or injured in terror attacks committed on US soil by special interest aliens who entered illegally from 1975 through the end of 2017. There were seven special interest aliens who initially entered the country illegally and were later convicted of planning a terrorist attack in the US, but they all entered through Canada or jumped ship in US ports before the list of special interest countries even existed.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Illegal Immigration (But Didn’t Know Who to Ask)

Easy. In 2009 the Department of Homeland Security estimated that there were 1.68 million undocumented immigrants living in Texas. (The nation as a whole is said to have 10.8 million, according to the DHS Texas has the second-highest number of all the states, after California.) The DHS reached this figure by taking the U.S. Census Bureau&rsquos numbers for all foreign-born Texans and then subtracting the DHS&rsquos own estimate of the ones who are here legally. Doesn&rsquot get any more official than that.

U.S. TOTAL: 10.8 million
TEXAS: 1.68 million

Q: How many are there, actually?

Not so easy. Plenty of people question the DHS figures, largely because many undocumented immigrants are reluctant to fill out census forms. But most researchers arrive at totals that are in the ballpark of the Census Bureau&rsquos. Even groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which argues for strong controls on immigration, come up with figures that are only 10 percent higher than the official numbers. Which, by the way, have dropped in recent years. That 10.8 million figure is down from 11.8 million in 2007. Why the drop? Well, there is that bad economy, plus the stepped-up enforcement of border security and workplace immigration laws.

Q: Where are they all from?

Most are from Mexico&mdash62 percent, according to the DHS. That&rsquos more than six million undocumented Mexican immigrants in the U.S. No other country even comes close. The runner-up, El Salvador, accounts for only half a million or so.

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Every Year, Hundreds of Migrants Die or Go Missing in Brooks County. A New Documentary Tells Two Families&rsquo Stories.

Q: Where else?

In descending order, the rest of the top ten (as of 2009) are Guatemala (480,000), Honduras (320,000), the Philippines (270,000), India (200,000), Korea (200,000), Ecuador (170,000), Brazil (150,000), and China (120,000).


Q: I would think that undocumented immigrants would be more likely to commit crimes than American citizens. But I read a story the other day that said they actually commit fewer crimes than most Americans. Could that really be true?

No one really knows for sure. Various reports have demonstrated that many of the country&rsquos lowest crime rates can be found in places with the highest immigration rates that America&rsquos crime rate dropped radically between the mid-nineties and the early twenty-first century, just as immigration was booming and that the incarceration rate of native-born men is higher than that of immigrants. But there are problems with these reports. Few of them differentiate between legal and illegal immigrants the former are often well-educated people who have been vetted by immigration officials and their prospective employers. Lumping them in with illegal immigrants might sharply skew the statistics. Also, using incarceration rates is tricky: It is surprisingly difficult to determine what portion of the prison population is made up of people who are here illegally. As a result, the crime rate among undocumented immigrants could be underreported.

Q: How big a draw is illegal immigration on the state budget?

A 2006 report by then comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn found that undocumented immigrants paid $424.7 million more to the state in taxes and fees than the state spent on them in education (by far the biggest expense), health care, and incarceration. That&rsquos a net gain for Texas. But on the local level, the report found a very different story: Local governments and hospitals were nearly $1 billion in the hole.

Strayhorn&rsquos report has some serious critics, though. Perhaps the comptroller&rsquos most problematic decision was to exclude the expense of educating the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants, on the grounds that these children are American citizens. That&rsquos a dodge, and a pretty significant one. According to a 2009 report by the Pew Hispanic Center, there are nearly three times as many U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants as undocumented children. If we include all of them in the calculations, the state budgetary impact of undocumented immigration could go from less than half a billion in the black to well north of a billion in the red.

Q: So it could be pretty high?

Some people think so. But nothing&rsquos simple in this debate. Texans can take heart from a recent report by Jack Martin, the director of special projects for FAIR. Though Martin&rsquos view is that immigrants are disproportionately criminal, he concedes that &ldquothe pattern is not uniform&rdquo and that Texas is one of a handful of states where undocumented immigrants have a lower rate of incarceration than native-born Americans. El Paso, a city with a very large immigrant population, much of it undocumented, has one of the lowest crime rates in the country, despite the violence just over the border.

Yes, but keep in mind that at the federal level, undocumented immigrants pay taxes they may never recover. Most work for large employers that withhold Social Security and Medicare taxes. That money helps keep the system solvent.

Q: Does the influx of so many people willing to work for low pay bring down wages and make it tougher for me to find a job?

Well, that depends on who you are. If you&rsquore a member of the upper class or the middle class, undocumented immigrants should have little or no effect on your wages. But if you&rsquore a lower-class high school dropout, then, yes, immigrants (legal and illegal) may bring your wages down a bit&mdashby less than 10 percent, most likely.

As for whether immigrants throw American citizens out of work, the evidence seems to suggest that though they no doubt displace some people from jobs, their presence here also creates jobs, as immigrants buy clothing, eat out at restaurants, and sign cell phone contracts. And if their cheap labor wasn&rsquot available, some employers would probably invest in automation rather than pay people higher wages.


Q: What&rsquos the deal with this border fence?

First off, it&rsquos not really a fence. Not like you&rsquore thinking. The word &ldquofence&rdquo conjures up an image of a single, continuous barrier, like the one that keeps your dog from biting the postman. But the border fence is actually a series of different types of barriers (&ldquopost-on-rail steel set in concrete with a mesh option&rdquo &ldquovehicle bollards&rdquo &ldquoconcrete jersey walls with steel mesh&rdquo and many other variations). In some places, no fence is planned at all, partly under the assumption that geographical features like rivers and mountain ranges function as perfectly good impediments.

The border between the U.S. and Mexico is 1,954 miles long the border fence is designed to cover approximately 670 miles of it. Most of those gaps can be found in Texas: A mere 110 miles of fence will be spread across our 1,254-mile border. The lion&rsquos share of the Texas fence can be found in the Rio Grande Valley, where it is expected to cover 70 miles of a 100-mile or so stretch, broken up into 21 segments that resemble a conga line of tiny worms who can&rsquot get their act together. Since Texas already has a natural barrier&mdashthe Rio Grande&mdashmuch of the fence is being built not along the border but well inland, angering many landowners.

Q: What about the &ldquovirtual fence&rdquo? That will take care of the gaps in the real fence, won&rsquot it?

Sure, sure, and I&rsquove got some oceanfront property in Loving County that might interest you. In 2005 the DHS&rsquo Secure Border Initiative allowed for the construction of a &ldquovirtual fence&rdquo to accompany the physical fence&mdashessentially a network of surveillance towers outfitted with cameras, radar, and communication technology. But this turned out to be little more than a $7.6 billion boondoggle. After spending more than a billion dollars, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano put the virtual fence on hold this past March, just before the Government Accountability Office released a report that said it was severely defective.

TOTAL U.S. BORDER (1,954 miles): 670 miles of fence
TEXAS BORDER (1,254 miles): 110 miles of fence


Q: How about those drones? Are they the same as the ones we&rsquore using in Pakistan and Afghanistan?

Yes, you&rsquove read about the Predator B drone in military dispatches: an unmanned plane with powerful video cameras that can track action miles below on the ground. Because they can fly for up to twenty hours without having to refuel, ten times as long as a manned helicopter, drones allow the Border Patrol to surveil hard-to-reach and high-risk areas. But cloudy weather can interfere with the cameras&rsquo image quality, and the accident rate of unmanned aerial vehicles appears to be many times that of manned aircraft. And they ain&rsquot cheap: Drones cost $4.5 million a pop, not counting the millions needed for the equipment to operate them and the salaries of the pilots who steer the craft remotely. (That&rsquos right: These Predators aren&rsquot really drones&mdashthey&rsquore remotely piloted in real time, not preprogrammed to fly autonomously.) Still, in September a Predator began operating out of Corpus Christi, the first time such a system has been based in Texas. We&rsquoll see how it goes.


Q: This is embarrassing, but what exactly is a green card? Is it actually green?

A United States permanent resident card allows an immigrant to stay here indefinitely. It can be obtained through a family member or by meeting stringent employment requirements or through an annual lottery. And though an early version of the card was green and the current version is as well, not every version has been.

Q: What are the other legal ways you can get into the country?

There are a lot. A wide variety of visas allow people to come here and travel for a short time or work or study for a period of years or join family who are living here.

Q: So why the heck does anyone need to come here illegally?

Among other things, it&rsquos a math problem. The government offers many kinds of visas, but there aren&rsquot that many of each. For instance, only 66,000 H-2B visas, for nonagricultural workers, are issued annually, and they&rsquore good for three years, tops. It should be noted, however, that as many as half of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S. came here legally on visas they just stayed longer than they were supposed to.

Q: I always hear about how undocumented immigrants are &ldquoliving in the shadows.&rdquo How do they do basic things&mdashset up bank accounts and phone accounts, get driver&rsquos licenses, enroll their kids in school?

In 1996 the Internal Revenue Service established the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) to track wages and taxes for employees who are ineligible for a Social Security number&mdashincluding undocumented immigrants. Some banks, happy for the business, accept the ITIN as a substitute for a Social Security number. Phone companies, likewise, have little interest in turning away paying customers. Driver&rsquos licenses are a bit trickier. Some states, controversially, have chosen to issue them to undocumented immigrants. (The theory is that having a valid license is required for getting car insurance, and if every driver has insurance, our roads are safer.) In Texas, however, you must have a valid ID to get a license, though some people no doubt get around this with fake papers. As for enrolling their children in school, parents simply have to show proof of residence&mdasha gas bill, say. It&rsquos a violation of federal law to deny a child an education, regardless of his or her immigration status.

Q: All right, confession time. I employ a housekeeper who I think might be an undocumented immigrant. How bad is this?

U.S. law states that you can hire only citizens or aliens who are permitted to work. But when it comes to housework and child care, many people get away with doing otherwise. &ldquoThe Obama administration has ramped up the pursuit of penalties against employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants, but generally the focus is on businesses with multiple employees, not individuals,&rdquo says Kathleen Webb, the proprietor of HomeWork Solutions, a tax compliance service. &ldquoThe risk of being caught is low, and the penalty for a single employee is a civil fine.&rdquo

Q: Okay, but I pay her under the table. Am I in trouble with the IRS?

Maybe. Whether she&rsquos legal or not, you&rsquore supposed to abide by the tax code. If you pay her less than $1,700 a year, you&rsquore off the hook in terms of taxes. If you pay her $1,700 or more, though, you&rsquore supposed to collect Social Security and Medicare taxes, match her contributions, and send the total to the IRS. (This is where that ITIN thing comes in handy.) &ldquoThere is no statute of limitations for payroll taxes,&rdquo says Webb. &ldquoIn addition to back taxes, you may be subject to penalties and interest charges.&rdquo And if you have more than one employee and pay them, in total, $1,000 or more in a calendar quarter, you&rsquore also supposed to pay federal and Texas unemployment taxes.

Q: But if I pay her taxes, couldn&rsquot she get in trouble, because I&rsquove put her on the government&rsquos radar?

The government doesn&rsquot use the ITIN to track down undocumented immigrants the IRS is generally forbidden by law from sharing information with other agencies. &ldquoHer only risk is if she fails to file an income tax return with the W-2 you provide her,&rdquo Webb says.

Q: But who gets hurt when I don&rsquot pay her Social Security taxes?

By failing to do your part you&rsquore making it more difficult for the government to meet its obligations to current and future recipients. And she may become one of them if she gains citizenship. &ldquoMany people who performed menial jobs for low wages off the books eventually do file for Social Security,&rdquo Webb says. &ldquoIf she identifies you as an employer, the IRS will pursue you for the back taxes.&rdquo

Q: So, as I said, I&rsquove never actually asked her about her immigration status. Would it be rude to do so?

Yes. If she&rsquos worked for you for a while, you have effectively embraced a &ldquodon&rsquot ask, don&rsquot tell&rdquo policy. &ldquoThe best way to avoid potentially awkward or uncomfortable situations is to be very matter-of-fact and follow the procedures laid out for checking work authorization when you hire someone,&rdquo says Travis Packer, a policy researcher at the Immigration Policy Center. A new hire&mdashimmigrant or native&mdashis supposed to fill out the first section of an I-9 form and show you documents that demonstrate her identity and employment authorization.

If she&rsquos in the country illegally, it&rsquoll be apparent pretty quickly. If, though, you&rsquove let all this slide for a while, you may want to belatedly ask her to fill out the forms and show you her documents&mdashbut be prepared for an awkward conversation.

Q: What is the government doing about all this? Are any reform plans being taken seriously right now?

Not really. In December of last year, Texas congressman Solomon Ortiz introduced the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America&rsquos Security and Protection Act of 2009, which is somewhat similar to Ted Kennedy and John McCain&rsquos failed Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007. The bill recommends that undocumented immigrants who were here by late 2009 receive six-year visas and later become permanent residents if they have jobs, undergo criminal background checks, learn English, and pay a $500 fine. The bill has been in committee since March and doesn&rsquot seem to be going anywhere.

Well, in April, half a dozen Democratic senators put forward an informal proposal they call Real Enforcement with Practical Answers for Immigration Reform (get it? REPAIR?), which emphasizes increasing border security and cracking down on the employment of illegal aliens. Only after that is done would the government create a new type of visa, the H-2C, which would allow nonseasonal, nonagricultural workers to stay here for three to six years and eventually earn lawful permanent residence. The proposal is an intentional blend of liberal and conservative ideas, but its sole Republican consultant, Lindsey Graham, jumped ship earlier this year, a likely sign that it will go nowhere in a fiercely divided Senate.

Q: What about that Arizona law? Any chance we&rsquoll get something like that in Texas?

Given the legal challenges the law has drawn, don&rsquot count on anything similar passing here anytime soon. Which isn&rsquot to say many Texans wouldn&rsquot like to see that happen. According to one recent poll, 53 percent of Texas registered voters want the Legislature to pass an Arizona-style law that would allow police officers to ask people they have stopped to prove that they are here legally.


Q: Where do Rick Perry and Bill White stand on the issue of immigration?

As far away from it as they can. Perry and White have largely stuck to saying that the border needs to be secured and that local police officers shouldn&rsquot bear the burden of what is, ultimately, a federal responsibility. Both of them are also against creating an Arizona-style law here. Perry says it wouldn&rsquot be &ldquothe right direction&rdquo for Texas White says it&rsquos not &ldquothe right solution&rdquo for Texas. There are a few differences: Perry is for voter ID White is skeptical about the idea. Perry says White ran Houston as a &ldquosanctuary city&rdquo White says he did not. Perry has played up the threat of spillover violence on our side of the border White says Perry&rsquos exaggerating the dangers. But by and large, these guys would rather talk about almost anything else. Politicians like easy answers, and as you can see, there are no easy answers in this debate.

Renting a Car

If you're renting a car in Mexico, you will need to have a valid U.S. driver's license, proof of civil liability car insurance and a valid credit card to reserve the rental and cover incidental costs. Debit cards are not accepted. In order to rent a car in Mexico, you must be at least 25 years old and have held your license for a minimum of two years, though some rental agreements require drivers to have held a license for a minimum of five years.

When renting a car in Mexico, your credit card may provide insurance, but you should buy the Mexican car insurance anyway. If you get in a car accident and don't have Mexico car insurance, you might not be able to leave the country until the damage has been paid for. However, if your credit card provided insurance, the company should reimburse you when you get home regardless of whether you purchased additional insurance. Read your credit card's coverage benefits and limitations before leaving home.

When you rent a car in Mexico, look the car over before you sign the rental agreement, and have the agent write down every scratch or non-working part on the vehicle or you'll have to pay for those scratches and parts when you return the car. It's worth taking photos of every single scratch on the car before you get in to use as proof in case the companies try to claim you caused the damage.

A Little Common Sense

If you are having no trouble with your property and your neighbors, yet you feel inclined to go rushing out to determine your exact boundaries just to know where they are, please ask yourself a question. Have you been satisfied in the past with the amount of space that you occupy? If the answer is yes, then consider the time, money and hostility that might be involved if you pursue the subject.

When a problem exists on your border, keep the lines of communication open with the neighbor if possible. Learn the law and try to work out an agreement between yourselves. Boundary lines simply don't matter that much to us most of the time relationships with our neighbors matter a great deal.