Monday, March 30, 2009

On the border

DHS Secretary Napolitano seems to equate homeland security with immigration.  This isn't much of a surprise as her focus was shaped by her time as governor and attorney general of the state of Arizona.  She is calling for more resources to be shifted to the Southwest border to address the immigration issues posed by thousands of people trying to cross into the United States. Secretary State Clinton has added her voice saying these immigration issues are the fault of the United States.  Both secretaries are bolstering their arguments by pointing out the amount of illegal drugs being smuggled into the United States via the border.

Secretary Napolitano's has coined the term "man-made threats" to replace "terrorists" in a recent speech.  Her choice of words and emphasis on immigration issues is both predictably and disappointing.  North Korea, China, Russia and Iran are more volatile than ever yet the department created to protect the United States seems more concerned about illegal aliens as an immigration issue rather than as a security issue.

Bringing back the drug problem is uninspired.  Drugs have been coming through the Southwest border for many years and no interdiction efforts have been able to stem the flow.  As some of you know, I was the commander of the counterdrug task force here in Ohio back in the 90's.  One of the last cases we worked illustrates why the drug problem will not be handled by any policies created by DHS, the State Department or any other federal agency.

The prices are dated but the economies of scale are still relevant. I couldn't understand why drug dealers in Ohio could order a 50lbs bale of marijuana from Mexico and would not have to pay until a week later.  Drug dealers are not some of the most reliable business partners and at a going rate then of over $1,200 the level of trust afforded by a week did not make sense.  Then I began to understand the economies at work.

A bale of marijuana in Mexico sold for $25.  Get it smuggled across the border and the same bale was now worth $75 on the US side.  The bale's price jumped to over $100 as soon as you got it to the nearest city in Texas.  Once the bale got past San Antonio, the value would jump to around $500.  Get the bale to Ohio and its value sky-rocketed to over $1,000.

If the drug dealer in Ohio got busted or otherwise failed to pay, the Mexican dealer was only out a $25 investment.  If the Ohio connection managed to not get busted and paid, the Mexican dealer made a 5 five fold profit.

I have no reason to believe these economies of scale have changed, if anything the profits are even higher.  The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP or "drug czar") was created to address the drug problem over 20 years ago.  Policy will cannot stop the drug problem due to the enormous profits involved.  If the ONDCP wasn't able to impact the drug problem, I don't see what tools DHS or the Department of State can do.

To illustrate the problem facing DHS, you need to go to El Paso and look across the river.  El Paso is like any other major American city filled with stores, restaurants and businesses.  To the South, you will Juarez which just a shanty town.  One look will tell you why people try any means to cross over into the US but you don't see the opposite.  Jobs and money exist on the US side, neither of which exist on the Juarez side.

In order to buy drugs, you need money.  You can't sell drugs in Juarez for the same price you can get just across the border in El Paso.  Using my earlier example, the further you can smuggle the drugs into the United States the greater the return on your investment.

It stands to reason if an organization is skilled in smuggling drugs and illegal immigrants, they can also smuggle other things such as terrorists or weapons of mass destruction.  The attempt to "secure" our borders is important but we should not deluded ourselves that this alone will make us safer.  We need to do something about the economic incentives to smuggling drugs into the United States.  Secretary Clinton needs to take the lead on creating economic prosperity on the South side of the border decreasing the need for people to come North looking for work and prosperity.

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