Ask 10 different politicians on Capitol Hill what a secure border looks like, and you will likely get 10 different answers. Of secure border advocates throughout the country, no one really knows how to definitively achieve that – most likely because there is anything but universal agreement on what it means. As the November US presidential election nears, different approaches to immigration reform and, to a much lesser extent, border security have been put forth. However, very few details have emerged from any of the candidates regarding plans for border security, and many of the suggested plans are rife with folly. But before considering any useful strategies, thoroughly understanding the present US border security apparatus and its history is vital.
The southern US border with Mexico was initially established in 1848 with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and was finalized five years later with the Gadsden Purchase. However, the separation between the two countries was distinguished by the tightly winding Rio Grande in both the Hidalgo Treaty and the Treaty of 1884, meaning that territory could be lost and gained depending on changes in the river’s flow. (The northern border with Canada is quite different, and as such poses different security challenges. Formally known as the International Boundary, it stretches more than 5,500 miles and is the longest land border between two countries in the world. Like so many other borders, it was also created through a series of treaties and conventions, using two lines of latitude and several bodies of water as guides.)
Fast-forward to the 20th century and three things happened in the span of less than 40 years that would forever change the nation’s view of the US-Mexico border.
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