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Strong U.S. - Mexico immigration enforcement is a matter of national security

by Christopher A. Guzman, published

In the same week the Los Angeles Times reported that House Republicans desire a return to arresting illegal immigrants through workplace raids, the paper also reported that U.S. border agents arrested controversial Muslim cleric Said Jaziri in close proximity of the California-Mexico border near San Diego.

Deported from Canada for allegedly being an outspoken supporter of governing Canadian Muslims with Shariah law, the Times said that border authorities discovered the cleric in the car trunk of an alien smuggler who was also simultaneously attempting to sneak another immigrant into the U.S. In addition to advocating radical Shariah law, Jaziri had also led protests against the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed illustrated by cartoonist Kurt Westergaard in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten.

Back in 2007, the Montreal Gazette reported that Jaziri lost his deportation battle to remain a refugee in Canada after authorities learned that he hid his criminal record regrading an assault charge. The Canadian publication said that the Tunisian cleric was convicted in 1994 of assaulting an individual who was apparently responsible for the closing of a prayer room. Instead of returning to his homeland of Tunisia, however, Jaziri eventually worked his way to Mexico.

This incident isn't the only non-Mexican indication of suspicious activity along the U.S border. Last week, a U.S. Border Patrol agent that watches a route known for alien and drug smuggling reportedly discovered an Iranian book that celebrates the legacy of suicide bombers. In a statement from the Department of Homeland Security, there was no "credible information" that there was any substantial terrorist activity along the border.

Non-Mexicans seeking ways to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border isn't really anything new, but has been happening for quite some time now. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, even has a designation for non-Mexicans who cross the border known as Other than Mexican (OTM's). In 2009, 52,000 OTM's were arrested. 

When it comes to discussing controversial federal and state measures to tackle illegal immigration, much of the discourse surrounding the issue disproportionately centers around apprehending illegal immigrants from south of the border who come to take advantage of state welfare benefits and other loopholes.  While tracking costs associated with illegal immigration in a deficit-laden California is a necessary undertaking, these other recent border activities highlight the dangers posed to the United States and underscore the need for an effective enforcement policy.

Under the Obama Administration, Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano says that effective border enforcement is the precise target at which her department has aimed. It is no unfamiliar news item by now that deportations under the Obama administration are actually higher and that illegal immigration is down. According to the department, the number of border patrol agents has more than doubled from 2004-2010, from 10,000-20,700 agents. In addition, the number of border patrol apprehensions has increased 36 percent in the past two years and violent crime has also fallen.

The department also claims that it is arresting employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants at record levels. Recent incidents, however, emphasize that enforcement on the border is far from complete.There is also no telling how much of an impact the Great Recession has had on the decreased illegal immigration numbers. 

As the Jaziri case demonstrates, stiffer penalties should probably be levied against "coyotes" (those who seek to guide illegal immigrants and others past patrol agents for a high price), in addition to current measures seeking to reduce illegal immigration.  Much work still lies ahead. Hopefully, more progress can be made in closing the gaps to make the border all the more secure, an issue in which both major parties have fallen short.

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