As immigration reform moves to the Senate floor, Senator Marco Rubio has raised new questions about whether the border security strategy in the current Senate bill can be effectively executed by the Obama and future administrations. The experience of the past several years indicates that DHS can, in fact, despite rancorous politics, manage the complex border region and improve the immigration system. Let's review how:
The Border Is Safer, While Trade Has With Mexico Has Exploded -- Despite a very real rise of violence on the Mexican side of the border, the situation on the US side of the border has improved dramatically in recent years. Due to a bi-partisan commitment in recent years to improve security, violent crime on the U.S. side of the border has dropped precipitously, from 19,000 violent crimes in 2004 to just 14,000 today. Major border cities like San Diego and El Paso have violent crime rates just a third of what they were a decade ago. With the increase in border security and improvements in the Mexican economy, total immigration from Mexico to the U.S. decreased from 770,000 in 2000 to 140,000 in 2010, resulting in a current net migration of zero.
Additionally, while we have toughened up on the border, trade between the U.S. and Mexico has exploded, increasing from $300b in 2009 to $536b in 2012. During this time Mexico has become the U.S.'s second largest export market, and third largest overall trading partner. Because of this trade boom, 70 percent of which flows over the 47 U.S.-Mexico border crossings, we now trade more with Mexico than we do with the UK, Japan and Germany combined, and Mexico now buys twice as much from the U.S. than China's billion-plus people do.
It is important to note that the successful management of these complex challenges has been led by a deeply experienced veteran of the region, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, a former border state governor, state attorney general and native of the region. Her experience has allowed her to put together a team, and a strategy, which have made our border much safer while also allowing an enormous increase in border trade flows, something which has created many new jobs in recent years on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border.
The Immigration System Is Better -- In the past few years, while Congress has debated immigration reform, the administration did not stand still. It has taken a series of steps to improve the current immigration system. Actions like the prioritization of criminal migrants for deportation (while maintaining higher levels of deportation than ever before), a significant expansion and improvement in the nation's worker verification system, the replacement of large work place raids with the much more targeted and effective I-9 audits to go after exploitive employers, and the limited legalization of DREAM-act eligible youth, together have all made the immigration system better today.
The Senate Bill Makes Smart Moves Towards Making All This Better Still -- Building on this track record, the border and immigration bill passed by the Senate would make additional improvements in border safety and in the immigration system. Border enforcement would receive billions in additional dollars in the coming years, giving DHS the resources it needs to hit the new target of 90 percent apprehension rates of undocumented migrants along the border. Our nation's worker verification system would become universal, and a new and more comprehensive method of tracking the exit of people temporarily in the U.S. would be adopted. The legal immigration system would become much more focused on skilled workers, which will give a very real boost to U.S. productivity. We would of course offer legalization to millions of undocumented immigrants, with a clear path to citizenship. And critical investments in our ports of entry and an increase in U.S. customs agents will expand U.S.-Mexico trade while allowing for more tourists to visit the U.S. each year -- investments that will lead to the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the US in the coming years.
The concerns voiced in recent days about the ability of the federal government to effectively manage the immigration system, while legitimate, need to be tempered by both the very real progress made in recent years, and the intelligence of the current Senate bill. It has clear that with better strategies, more money and greater cooperation with our Mexican partner, the U.S. government has made the border safer, the immigration system better while also facilitating an enormous expansion of our trade and commercial relationship with Mexico, creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs here in the U.S. By any measure the U.S. government's policy towards the border in recent years has been successful, and with the passage of the well-crafted and thoughtful Senate bill, the border can become safer still. Doing nothing would of course guarantee that the U.S.-Mexican border does not take the next steps in bringing about a safer border region, and would be tantamount to a vote for less rather than more border security.