Before more money is spent on more border security Congress would do well to take inventory of what has already been done. Border Patrol personnel has quintupled in the last 20 years, and billions have been spent in building a fence and electronic monitoring systems that have not always performed so well.

But with all of the government’s focus on more staff, technology and fences, we are now at a point of diminishing returns. Tougher enforcement has contributed to clogging legal crossings, which can undermine security, in turn. Besides, we should remember that approximately half of the unauthorized population in the United States entered the country legally but overstayed his or her visa. This is not a border problem.

As oversight of illegal crossings has increased, the enormous volume of legitimate traffic and commerce have forced border agents to identify a needle in a hay stack – the few who are illegal in a mountain of legal traffic.
The most important thing we can do to help with border security is to adopt a strategy of risk segregation, separating the legitimate from the potentially dangers. This allows border enforcers to focus on what is risky and not treat each truck or person entering the United States as a potential security risk.

Risk segregation is best handled through preclearance, with programs for trusted travelers and trusted shipper. These exist but are underutilized and, in some instances, the number of participants is stagnant or declining.

The government should prioritize investments in these programs over more traditional approaches that simply amass more people and technology at the border but are less efficient and effective in preventing unauthorized goods and persons from entering the country.

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