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Controlling the U.S.-Mexico border: What's the best policy?

"Counterterrorism and U.S. border security policy" is the topic of the next College of Arts and Sciences colloquium at New Mexico State University.



Dr. Jason Ackleson, assistant professor of government. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Jason Ackleson, assistant professor of government, will lead the discussion at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17, in Room 107 of the Science Hall. His presentation, part of the college's "Rethinking Terrorism" colloquia, will explore the myths and realities of terrorism on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Jason Ackleson

"My goal is to make us rethink what we're doing in terms of the border by asking some hard questions," Ackleson said. "There's a new paradigm emerging in terms of border control policy for the U.S.-Mexico border, consolidated around a new consensus about increased manpower and walls. The Border Patrol will be going up to 18,000 or so people. Also, a secure borders contract has been awarded to Boeing, which will build up to 1,800 watchtowers on the border. It's a new paradigm that says we can finally get control of the border. A lot of this is couched in the idea that this is an anti-terrorism effort."

Ackleson said he will explore how the U.S.-Mexico border is linked to anti-terrorism, how perceived or real the threats are, U.S. action in response to these threats, the question of whether a border wall will make Americans more secure, and what the wall would mean in terms of wider U.S. immigration policy.

"The general assumption is that the border with Mexico is particularly problematic, but when you look at the evidence, that's not necessarily the case," Ackleson said. "Terrorists could come here from Canada, in an airport as the 9/11 hijackers did, or legally and overstay their visas. These people are not sneaking across the border, so we are fooling ourselves if we think a fence or increased Border Patrol will make a difference.

"Also, there needs to be some equity in how we deal with the Mexican population that comes into this country," Ackleson said. "Some of the arguments that are in favor of border fencing or militarization, such as those posed by Pat Buchanan and political scientist Samuel Huntington, are often laced with racist or alarmist elements. Their ideas about people of different nationalities, ethnicities or languages as a threat to our national identity and disrupting American society are very problematic."

Buchanan's new book is "State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America." Two years ago, in an issue of "Foreign Policy" magazine, Huntington warned that the U.S. faces the loss of its "core Anglo-Protestant culture" because of lax immigration policies. Both men called for a border wall, but Ackleson questioned the feasibility of this "very powerful metaphor."

"Is a wall the best method to use? Is it even going to work?" he asked. "This is a last gasp effort. If you're putting up a wall, you're trying to stop somebody at the last possible moment. What you really need to do is create policy that will keep people where they are. You want to reduce the incentives for people to cross the border. You also want to prescreen individuals before they get on an airplane instead of having them show up here and leave it up to customs officers to make quick decisions as to whether they will be allowed in."

In a world of increased globalization and dependency on international commerce, Ackleson said a unilateral policy that stops people at the border will not succeed.

Other presentations scheduled for this fall semester are:
-"Strategic Communication and Counterterrorism," Ken Hacker, Department of Communication Studies, Oct. 24
-"Religious Justification for Violence in America," Keith Akins, Department of Criminal Justice, Oct. 31