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by Carl Shusterman

The recent meetings between President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox present a unique opportunity for the two leaders to implement a new accord governing Mexican workers employed in the United States.

Traditionally, Mexicans seeking employment have migrated north to better their living standards. When the economy sours, as it did during the Great Depression of the 1930s, INS rounded up and deported hundreds of thousands of Latinos, with little regard to whether they were citizens of the U.S. or Mexico. Then when the U.S. needs workers, we change the law to welcome them (e.g., the Bracero Program during and after World War II). When the urgency disappears, we round up Mexicans and Mexican-Americans alike and deport them (e.g., Operation Wetback in 1950). In general, see

The rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in California in the mid-1990's prompted the federal government to develop a new strategy to control illegal immigration along our southern border. The strategy, dubbed Operation Gatekeeper, dramatically increased the number of Border Patrol Agents, and resulted in the expenditure of over a billion dollars over the past 6 years in an effort to seal the border.

Has Operation Gatekeeper worked? And is it worth the price?

The California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA) Foundation's Border Project would no doubt answer both of these questions in the negative. It is interesting and informative to take a look at their provocative web site:

According to information posted on the web site, the 66-mile San Diego sector of the 2000-mile border is where 25% of the Border Patrol agents are assigned; contains 72% of all border fencing; and 54% of all border illumination.

The site maintains that Operation Gatekeeper has not succeeded in sealing the border. Even though the number of Border Patrol agents has more than doubled since 1994, the number of apprehensions along the U.S.- Mexico border has increased by 68% from less than 1 million in 1994 to an all time high of 1.6 million in 1999. The INS estimates that the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. now exceeds 5 million.

The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. is difficult to measure. Just a few days ago, the Census Bureau estimated that there were 11 million illegals, more than double the INS figure, and that they were major contributors to the economic expansion of the 1990's. Everett Ehrlich, former undersecretary for economic affairs at the Commerce Department stated that "it looks like 5 million illegal immigrants were here that we didn't know about, maybe more, and wasn't the end of the world...and what if we didn't have them? Look at how they increased our productive potential."

In any case, at least as many persons become illegal in the U.S. by overstaying their visas as by crossing the border without being inspected by the INS.

The web site states that "all that Gatekeeper has achieved, at an enormous cost in lives, is to move the migrant foot traffic out of the public eye and give the appearance of a border under control."

What enormous cost in lives? The Mexican Foreign Relations Office reports that 491 Mexicans died in 2000 trying to illegally cross the border compared to 356 in 1999. Even the Border Patrol's own figures show a 60% increase in deaths. The biggest causes of deaths are hypothermia, heat stroke, drowning and accidents. Why has this occurred? While Operation Gatekeeper has discouraged people from trying to cross the border in the comparatively-safe San Diego sector, the border-crossers have moved eastward to California's Imperial desert, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas where the temperatures are extreme and the terrain is treacherous.

How can a policy which has cost the taxpayers over a billion dollars, but which has resulted in more, not less, illegal immigration and over 1,000 unnecessary deaths be justified?

None of this is to disparage the courageous actions of individual Border Patrol Agents who have saved countless border crossers from life-threatening situations. This is about a federal policy which looks to be terribly misguided.

Take a few minutes to read this web site. Compare it with "The National Border Patrol Strategy" on the INS web site at

If you are convinced that Operation Gatekeeper is an efficient and effective way to control illegal immigration, e-mail President Bush and urge him to continue this program. If you agree with that Operation Gatekeeper seems more like a PR gimmick than a true immigration control policy, send an e-mail message to President Bush and urge him to consider a new border strategy, one which recognizes the mutual interests of both countries, and which saves money and lives.

President Bush's e-mail address is

About The Author

Carl Shusterman is a certified Specialist in Immigration Law, State Bar of California
Former U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service Attorney (1976-82)
Board of Governors, American Immigration Lawyers Association (1988-97)
Phone: (213) 623-4592 Fax: (213) 623-3720
Law Offices of Carl Shusterman, 624 So. Grand Ave., Suite 1608
Los Angeles, California 90017

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