Deterrence delays inevitable

Excerpted from an editorial that appeared in The Miami Herald on Wednesday.

By ordering the deployment of 1,200 more federal troops to the border last month, President Barack Obama seems to have bought into the conventional wisdom that reforming the nation's immigration system must wait until the borders are secure. As is often the case, the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Anyone looking at a map would have to conclude that creating an impenetrable wall along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico is an unrealistic fantasy. The area is too vast, it would cost too much, and even if maximum effectiveness could be achieved, it would fail to deal with the estimated 40 to 60 percent of all illegal U.S. residents who enter with valid documents and overstay their visas.

As it is, the Border Patrol already has 20,000 agents in place, more than double the level of a decade ago, not to mention forces from the National Guard and other federal agencies. It's unlikely that devoting more resources to the region will bring further gains in terms of either security or stopping illegal entry.

Well, conventional thinking goes, a few more troops can't hurt. Actually, such actions can have — and have had — a harmful effect on the immigration debate. They postpone the day when legislators have to deal effectively with the problem. They create the illusion of action and thus delay the hard decisions that eventually must be made.

Last month, the Congressional Research Service, in a report titled "Analysis of U.S. Border Protection Policies," concluded that a strategy relying primarily on deterrence is failing.

A full immigration plan that includes improved employee identification documents, among many other provisions, can deal with that issue.

Deterrence alone won't do the job.