Why It's So Difficult To Secure The Border The U.S. government spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the Secure Border Initiative and a fence along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Federal agencies have increased criminal prosecutions of illegal immigrants. Yet, illegal border crossings continue.
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Why It's So Difficult To Secure The Border

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Why It's So Difficult To Secure The Border

Why It's So Difficult To Secure The Border

Why It's So Difficult To Secure The Border

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The U.S. government spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the Secure Border Initiative and a fence along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Federal agencies have increased criminal prosecutions of illegal immigrants. Yet, illegal border crossings continue.


Ted Robbins, NPR correspondent
Edward Alden, senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations


This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Every argument about illegal immigration comes to include fundamental questions about the U.S. border with Mexico: How many people cross? Why is it so difficult to prevent that? What would it take to close the border and at what cost?

Parts of the frontier are blocked by high walls, but the hundreds of miles of fences also include barriers to block vehicles but not people. Most of the 2,000 miles isn't fenced at all, and very little prevents anybody from flying into the country as a tourist or a student and overstaying their visa.

Later on The Opinion Page this week, we'll talk with Steve Coll of the New Yorker about what he calls the U.S. government's incoherent plans for a negotiated peace in Afghanistan. But first, if you've worked on the border as an agent, with the National Guard or with state or local law enforcement, what works and what doesn't? Tell us your story.

Our phone number, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We begin in NPR's bureau in Tucson, Arizona, with correspondent Ted Robbins. Ted, thanks very much for joining us.

TED ROBBINS: Oh, my pleasure. Good to be with you.

CONAN: And inevitably, amid the controversy over Arizona's new immigration law, a lot of the attention focuses on the border itself and what John McCain called in a recent campaign ad that danged fence, but nevertheless, we cannot overlook the very large number of people who fly across that border, and indeed other frontiers, and overstay their visas.

ROBBINS: Right. I'm really glad you brought that up, Neal - or not just fly, but I mean there are points of entry all along the southern border, land ports of entry where people, thousands, tens of thousands cross every single day, and the government estimates that somewhere between 40, 50 percent of the people in the country right now illegally were people who came in legally on visas and overstayed their visas.

CONAN: And is there any mechanism to check on these people and see where they are and say you're here a little long, now time to go home?

ROBBINS: No, in a word. Congress ordered a program called US-VISIT. This was a couple of years after 9/11, and it was supposed to have gone into effect, and it takes they do take, you know, they have fingerprints, and they get you coming in. They know who you are when you come in.

But once you're in, there is no exit. The exit portion of that program has not yet been implemented, except for a couple of airports in pilot programs.

CONAN: And is it going to be implemented anytime soon?

ROBBINS: Your guess is as good as mine. I haven't heard anything about it.

CONAN: And if people are picked up by the police for a traffic violation or something like that, they wouldn't ask them if they're country illegally, I guess except in Arizona when this new law takes effect.

ROBBINS: Yeah, if and when the new law takes effect, right.

CONAN: And indeed, the federal authorities, are they investigating people who overstay their visas?

ROBBINS: Not actively, as far as I have not heard of anything. I mean, most of the ICE raids, Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, focus on employers and, for that matter, large employers who are suspected of hiring illegal immigrants because that is after all, that's the pull in terms of most people. We're not now talking about people who are here to do the country harm.

CONAN: All right. Now, let's get back to the border itself and the people who cross it illegally. The fence, well, I think Congress authorized something like 700 miles.

ROBBINS: Yeah, 300 we'll talk roughly, 350 miles of pedestrian fencing, which is difficult to get over and in some places has become virtually impenetrable south of San Diego.

Those areas are in the areas around cities, like Tijuana. And then farther out, you have vehicle barriers, which are bollards. They're concrete pillars I'm sorry, steel pillars filled with concrete, sunk into the ground. And then there are some Normandy-style X-, kind of X-shaped railroad sections of iron, and then there's nothing. So that's what we've got right now.

Let me give you a number. This is I first say this from the writer and journalist Charles Boden(ph). There are let's say there's 2,100 miles of border in the south, which takes in cities, deserts, the Rio Grande. So if you had two people per mile per day coming into the country either legally or illegally, certainly seems like a really conservative estimate to me, two people per mile per day every day, that's a million and a half people a year coming into the country...


ROBBINS: ...and either staying illegally or coming in illegally.

CONAN: Wow. Well, why is the fencing, even as limited as it is in some places, limited to just 700 miles?

ROBBINS: The strategy that the border patrol has had for years was to push people away from urban areas for a number of reasons. Politically I think is probably the biggest reason. You know, you had people streaming over Otay Mesa across from San Diego, and so that got a lot of heat. Then it went to Douglas, Arizona, Nogales, Arizona, places like that, so to push them farther into remote areas.

The border patrol has this sort of - this strategy where if they can slow you down in areas where you can get lost easily, like in a city, quickly, then they put the hardest asset there. Then farther out in the desert, they figure they have more time to chase you. That's essentially the strategy.

CONAN: So they're moving people away from cities, our further into the desert to both discourage them and make it easier to catch them when they do cross, but of course, that's further out in the desert. And then there are all these places that aren't fenced at all. Why don't is it possible to put fences there? Is it physically possible?

ROBBINS: Boy, you know, well, I'm reluctant to say something is impossible to do, but you're talking about let me give you one example. On the Tohono Oodham Indian Nation, which is southwest of Tucson, there is some fencing nearby, but there is there's I was shown by a border patrol agent, there's a quarter-mile wash, which runs with summer rains. And that area, a quarter of a mile, is not fenced because his estimate was that it would cost something like $13 million just to fence that quarter mile, and then you'd have to have backhoes there that were cleaning debris off of it every time it rained, you know, reaching over to the Mexican side and pulling debris out.

You'd have to have people you already have a lot of border patrol agents there anyway, so if you're not manning an area, it doesn't do any good to build a fence because they'll cut through you know, they'll go over it with a ladder, they'll cut through it. You know, if there's a pull here, they're going to find a way to get over it.

So 13 million miles for an area, one particular quarter-mile, can give you some idea of the magnitude of the cost to not only build but to maintain the fence and to monitor the fence and to have agents close enough to catch people coming over the fence 24/7.

CONAN: And the border, we imagine these wide expanses of flat desert. As you point out, there are these areas where these washes, gulleys, ravines, mountains, there's all kinds of terrain.

ROBBINS: Right. I mean, this is you know, the border is a political boundary, not a geographic boundary in many places except for the Rio Grande, you know, separates it. But otherwise, the same geography on one side is on the other side.

CONAN: Well, we want to hear from those with experience trying to police this border. If you've worked down there with as an agent with the border patrol, if you've worked down there with the National Guard, which was active trying to construct portions of this fence in the past few years, if you've worked on local or state police law enforcement, give us a call, tell us your story. 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org.

In recent testimony to Congress, Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, was asked by Lindsey Graham, the Republican senator from South Carolina: Is the border secure?

Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (Department of Homeland Security): I've walked that border. I've ridden that border. I've flown it. I've driven it. I know that border, I think, as well as anyone.

Senator LINDSEY GRAHAM (Republican, South Carolina): Do you think it's secure?

Sec. NAPOLITANO: And I will tell you it is as secure now as it has ever been...

Sen. GRAHAM: My question...

Sec. NAPOLITANO: Senator, please.

Sen. GRAHAM: Yes, please.

Sec. NAPOLITANO: Let me answer the question. Every marker, every milepost that has been laid down by the Congress in terms of number of agents, deployment of technology, construction of fencing and the like, has already either been completed or is within a hair's breadth of being completed.

CONAN: And that's of course Janet Napolitano. Before she became secretary of Homeland Security, of course, she was governor of Arizona. And joining us here in our studio in Washington is Edward Alden, senior fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations, author of "The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11," and Ted, thanks very much for being with us today.

Mr. EDWARD ALDEN (Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations; Author, "The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11"): Thank you for having me here.

CONAN: And would you agree with Secretary Napolitano that the border is as secure as it's ever been?

Mr. ALDEN: I would. In fact, I think it's more secure than it's ever been by the measures that we use. If you look at the number of people attempting to cross the border illegally, it's a third of the levels that it was 10 years ago. We're down to levels as low as we have seen since the early 1970s. So the notion that we've got this wide-open, porous southwestern border just doesn't fit with the facts of what's been done by DHS and other agencies on that border in recent years.

CONAN: And how many people is that?

Mr. ALDEN: Well, they measure it in terms of apprehensions. You know, they don't know who they miss, they know who they catch. And so when they're catching more, they assume that more are making it in successfully. And the numbers that we're catching now are a third of what it was in 2000, same in Arizona. The numbers are a third of what they were in 2000.

There's no question that many, many fewer people are trying to get across than used to, and the primary reason is it's more difficult. It's a lot harder to evade the controls that have been put into place.

CONAN: And so what's the estimate of the number of people crossing?

Mr. ALDEN: Well, it's hard to estimate. The problem is you don't know who you miss, right? I can tell you the number they're apprehending. I can't tell you the number they're missing, and neither can they, unfortunately.

CONAN: Well, is there a best guess?

Mr. ALDEN: Well, you know, the best guess is the numbers last year that were apprehended on the southwest border were about 540,000. There's probably some double counting, people who are apprehended more than once.

The best research has been, and it's a few years out of date, that you probably stand a two in three chance of getting caught any time you go across. So you extrapolate that from that. We're probably catching two-thirds of the people who are trying to get across. We're catching 550,000 a year, maybe 250,000, something like that, are getting through. It's a guess.

CONAN: And is the drop due, do you think, to better security or to the recession, there are fewer jobs?

Mr. ALDEN: No question the recession has an impact, but if you actually look at the statistics over the years, in previous recessions, in the early '90s, in the early '80s, there was no drop in the number of apprehensions. There was no drop in the number of people attempting to get across. It was flat for a couple years during the recession but no drop.

This time around, we have seen a serious and big and lasting drop, and there's no question in my mind that that's due to increased security on the border.

CONAN: We're talking about what it might take to actually close the border with Mexico. If you've had experience down there with as a border agent with the local law enforcement, with the National Guard, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. What works? Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

As we just mentioned, the border patrol says the number of arrests for trying to cross illegally from Mexico into the U.S. has dropped. Many cite the economy, others point to a jump in border patrol agents, more visible enforcement efforts. Still, the vast southern border remains porous and a source of intense political debate.

Today, we're talking about the border, why it's so difficult to secure, what works and what it would take to close it at what costs.

Our guests are NPR correspondent Ted Robbins, who's with us from our bureau in Tucson, Arizona, and Ted Alden, Bernard L. Schwartz Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he focuses on immigration and visa policy.

We'd like to hear from those of you with experience on the border as an agent with local law enforcement or with the National Guard. Tell us your story. What works? What doesn't? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

Ted Robbins, let me get back to you for a minute. These the part of the fence that's been constructed as a vehicle boundary, as these bollards that you talk about, I've seen that part of the frontier. Anybody can walk between those. Three or four people abreast could walk between those bollards. What's the point of that, to stop vehicles?

ROBBINS: Yeah, not they could walk - the Normandy-style barriers they can walk around. The bollards themselves, a person can't squeeze through. There are different heights, though. They can put a ramp over them...

CONAN: Okay.

ROBBINS: ...and bring a vehicle. So but yeah, what's the point? To stop vehicles from coming in with large amounts of drugs or large numbers of people.

CONAN: And is that being effective? Does the border patrol think so?

ROBBINS: Oh, yeah. I would agree with my fellow Ted that numbers are down. I mean, there's no question. I think, you know, up for debate is why, but there's been an effect, and the effect has been to make it more dangerous to cross, more expensive to cross. And what's not you know, what I think is being stopped less are the drug smugglers because they have other reasons for coming, and they can come in smaller numbers.

CONAN: And Ted Alden, let me extend that discussion. Is it worthwhile to then extend the fencing of various types to cover the remaining many hundreds of miles of frontier?

Mr. ALDEN: No, I think that would be a waste of money, and the border patrol thinks that would be a waste of money. I mean, the border patrol sees fencing as tactical. My fellow Ted laid out the right rationale there. In places where it's easy to get across the border and disappear quickly into a settled population so urban areas there's a lot of advantage to fencing because it gives the border patrol time, discourages people.

In wide-open, desert areas, there would be no particular tactical advantage to having fencing. And you can't monitor it, and therefore, it would be vandalized, there would be tunnels dug under it. You can't maintain that quantity of fence across the border.

So I think the notion that additional fencing is going to provide more security of that border just doesn't hold water.

CONAN: Let's get some callers involved in the conversation. We'll start with Michael(ph), Michael with us from Anchorage, Alaska, a long way from the border.

MICHAEL (Caller): Well, yeah, and we do have the immigration up here, as well, and I've worked with immigrants for about 10 years now. I've heard a lot of stories about how people cross. As an attorney, they tell me. I ask them, and I represent them in how I can, if I can.

But my point is that the physical barriers are never going to be successful in stopping people from crossing. And the reason for that is there's too much incentive, economic incentive, social incentive, for people who migrate, and it's a historical fact. People will migrate when they're economically suffering.

So my point is if the U.S. government wanted - really wants to stem this kind of illegal immigration, they can possibly undertake programs like we do with Iraq, where we are building infrastructure in Mexico, raising the standard of living in Mexico and Central America and funneling the money down there that people can find the well-paying jobs and pressuring the Mexican government to raise their standard of living.

CONAN: The United States has done several attempts to do that, one of which was to allow the construction of factories and sort of trade-free, free-trade zones right along the frontier, and then, of course, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and of course, there were tremendous complaints the United States was shipping American jobs to Mexico.

MICHAEL: Well, I don't necessarily think that I would yeah, I don't want to say shipping American jobs to Mexico, but I think if you did infrastructure projects down there and had some special types of labor incentive programs where you, you know, possibly have a requirement of speaking English to get employed on these projects, the Hispanics that do come up here learn English. They have a certain level of English skill.

If you would require that, maybe, you would pull people back out of the United States down to work on these projects in Mexico perhaps or even in Guatemala, El Salvador. There's a lot that can be done down there to improve the standard of living and the infrastructure.

CONAN: Michael, some people would say that's a their needs are bottomless, and there's not much the United States, just a few drops in the bucket there, but anyway.

MICHAEL: That's my point. I'll go off now.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Michael, appreciate that. Let's see if we can go next to this is Red(ph), Red with us from Boulder, Colorado.

RED (Caller): Hello. First of all, I take great exception to your guests' figures, about two out of three on the interceptions coming across the border. I've talked to border patrollers down there. They say and by the way, not the management, but the men and women in the field, they say at best one out of three but probably one out of seven.

So if you have 500 or say a million people intercepted, and it's one out of let's say five, that's a couple million people coming in.

Secondly, I worked the border patrol down there from 1980 to 1985, and I can tell you that the border is really at the place of employment, that is to say if the United States Congress had the cojones to institute E-Verify, which matches Social Security numbers with names, they would get half the illegals working, and if they can't work, they're going to go home.

Other programs could get the rest of them. So the whole thing is just completely crazy. We have a Congress that doesn't give a damn about working people.

CONAN: Let's get back to that E-Verify point. Ted Robbins, this is of course an electronic database, a computer database, that checks Social Security numbers against, well, most of them are either made up or stolen identities used by illegal aliens.

ROBBINS: And you may recall that a couple of years ago, Arizona passed a law forcing employers to use E-Verify, and that's still in the courts, under challenge, but it did take effect, and so far, it's been pretty effective. I mean, there's a higher rate of employers who are enrolled in E-Verify here than in any other state.

RED: Well, let me just comment. Yeah, that's in the courts, and it's been challenged, but every law that's immigration-related in Arizona that they pass, some by referenda, have been sustained over and over and over by these court challenges.

So these court challenges, just as the most recent immigration law has two or three challenges right now...

CONAN: The ACLU joined that today, yes.

RED: I beg your pardon.

CONAN: The ACLU filed suit on that one today. I was just saying, they're piling on.

RED: Yeah, they're piling on, but they're going to all be sustained by the courts. I mean, when you've got the Ninth Circuit, which is the most notorious circuit in the whole country, left-wing circuit, and they say these laws are constitutional, you've got a case to be made there.

CONAN: Red, we can't anticipate what the Ninth Circuit is going to say about this new law.

ROBBINS: If I could, Neal, they haven't all been upheld. The Hazelton decision in Pennsylvania was struck down, which was requiring local law enforcement to enforce federal law.

CONAN: Ted Alden, do you want to get in...?

Mr. ALDEN: I just wanted to be clear on the border patrol. With respect to the caller's service in the border patrol, it's a completely different world than it was in 1980 to '85. We had 2,000 agents down on the border in 1980 to '85. We have 20,000 agents...

CONAN: Well, he says he's talked to people who work...

Mr. ALDEN: Right now, I mean, there are 18,000 of the 20,000 agents are on that southwest border. So the truth is nobody knows exactly how many people are...

CONAN: So he could be right.

Mr. ALDEN: Well, no, yeah, I mean - he may be right in saying it's one in three or two in three. The fact - the best study that's been done, and it was based on interviews with illegal immigrants themselves, indicated that in sort of two out of three efforts, they were caught. But if you go back repeatedly enough, you get in eventually. And these people are paying fees to smugglers to get them across.

So often, they are successful, but the number of people that we're apprehending is far, far higher than it was in that period in the early '80s. We had barely any agents on the border at all.

CONAN: But to be fair to the caller, he said he had talked to people who are still working there, and they say it is much higher than that, but...

Mr. ALDEN: And the truth is, they don't really know either, right, because they don't know exactly how many they're missing. But just based on the scale of the effort there now, it's so much larger than it was in the early '80s. There's no question the number of people we're catching is far, far higher...

CONAN: Let's go to Joseph(ph), Joseph calling us from Detroit.

JOSEPH (Caller): Yeah, how are you doing?

CONAN: All right.

JOSEPH: We have the same issue here. You could - we stop them - illegals at the airport here, and the border patrol doesn't have the budget to arrest them. You may have 30 or 40 on a flight, on a red-eye flight coming from Los Angeles.

Also, we run into folks, (unintelligible) and Hispanic, that are - who overstayed their visas by, in some cases, one, two or three years. What about these folks? Then there's the other problem. How come no one's saying anything about Tyson and all of these big poultry manufacturers in North Carolina, who hire these folks? And they know that they're illegal. A lot of these employers know that they're illegal. From the roofing companies, cement companies to -even when you're doing major construction in your cities, you'll see Hispanics.

And don't tell me that these companies don't know that these folks are illegal. And the reason why: Cheap labor, they know if these folks complain, they'll just deport them. And then we have another issue: An illegal gets here and has a baby, that baby is a U.S. citizen. No other country in the world allows something like that.

And then, let's keep it on the other side: What's wrong with people who are visiting our country or here having their papers? Because if you visit anywhere else, another country, they'll require you to have your documentation, and if not, they arrest you and kick you out of their country.

CONAN: Well, let's deal with a couple of those: Ted Alden, the issue of - well, we've mentioned with Ted Robbins already the people who overstay their visas. But the issue of companies, as I understand it, they can't be prosecuted unless they knowingly hire people who they know are in the country illegally.

Mr. ALDEN: This is a real problem with the current standard which was set up after the 1986 law, and it says that you have to get documentation from the people you hire, you have to make some effort to prove they're in the country legally. But, of course, you know, with a Social Security card, a paper card, it's a very easy document to create a phony version of.

CONAN: You don't need a document, all you need is a number.

Mr. ALDEN: You need a number, document, right. So there's no question a lot of employers make, at best, token efforts to prove that their workforce is illegal. That's part of the aim of the E-Verify system, which is actually to force employers to make a serious effort to verify the legality of their workforce. The program has expanded a lot in the last few years, but it's still a small program compared to the scope of the problem, no question about that.

CONAN: And Ted Robbins, the E-Verify, again going back to that, there are holes in it, as I understand, and there a lot of mistakes in the database.

ROBBINS: Well, yeah, after they roll it out. But they will say that there are far, far fewer mistakes than there are in the old paper system. You know, where you had to fill out an I-9...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

ROBBINS: ...and it seems to - as I say, it seems to be working in this state.

CONAN: And Joseph's other point that when illegals fly - get across the border then go to Los Angeles, and then fly to some place like Detroit, the border patrol does not have the funds to arrest them?

ROBBINS: Well, 90 - I think it's 90, 95 percent of all the border patrol agents that are on the southern border or within, you know, 75 miles of it. There are not that many border patrol agents in the North. And that's right, they fan out from all over the country.

Mr. ALDEN: And let's be clear here. If you're on a flight from Los Angeles to Detroit, you don't pass through a border patrol checkpoint. That's a domestic flight, right?

CONAN: We know that's a domestic flight. Right.

ROBBINS: But Detroit is close enough to the Canadian border, right...

Mr. ALDEN: (unintelligible).

CONAN: Canadian border...

ROBBINS: ...that's why there might be a couple of agents there, perhaps.

CONAN: That's right. Joseph, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it. We're talking about the border and what it would take to secure it, at what cost. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get another question in. This is Kevin(ph), Kevin with us from Boise.

KEVIN (Caller): Hi, Neal. My question is for Ted Robbins. He touched on it earlier. The real measure of the successful apprehension at the border - he said that border patrol is - keeps records on the number of people that they catch. But the real measure is, what is the price that a coyote charges to get immigrants across? Because I grew up on the Otay Mesa, so this is an issue near and dear to my heart. I used to shoot in those canyons and run across illegals all the time. But that's the real measure. He said, you know, we don't know how many we don't catch. But the real issue - the economic issue is, what does a coyote charge to get an immigrant across? When I lived there 25 years ago - 30 years ago, it was, you know, about 300 bucks a pop.

CONAN: Ted Robbins?

ROBBINS: Yeah. I don't think you - yeah, back then, I'm not sure you even needed a coyote. It's gone way up. I mean, it's 1,500, 2,500 - there are different price ranges. If you have a guarantee to get to your destination before - you know, whether you're caught or not and you get a repeat. There have been Chinese coming across the southern border who have paid up to, reportedly they say, up to $40,000. So it's become the - what's happened is the same folks who move drugs now move people, and that didnt use to be that way. It used to be just sort of a family business. You'd escort people across. It's become dangerously criminalized and very expensive and subject to extortion on the other end in drop houses in Phoenix or Tucson or wherever.

CONAN: Ted Alden?

Mr. ALDEN: Well, I'm just going to add that what we often don't talk about is the way in which the United States has done enforcement, which is just putting more agents, building up bigger barriers, has built a lucrative smuggling business for the Mexican cartels. And that's part of what has created the huge organized crime problem that we have on the Mexican side of the border. And it creates the feeling of insecurity in places like Arizona because you have the kidnappings in Phoenix, you have the drop houses, you have all of the things associated with organized crime. And what that says to me is that simply through heavier and heavier enforcement, you're not going to solve this problem. You're simply going to escalate the criminal dimension of it.

CONAN: Jose(ph) is on the line calling from Independence, Missouri.

JOSE (Caller): Yes. I crossed the line about - in the'80s.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

JOSE: And I alone - I tried to cross by myself without paying a coyote, and somebody stopped me with a gun. A couple of guys with a gun told me who was coming with me. I had to tell them the nickname of the coyote otherwise they wouldn't let - I'm not allowed to cross.

CONAN: It's sort of a mutual protection racket there.

JOSE: Yes. It's very organized. It's very organized. And I (unintelligible) also the guy who hooked me up with a coyote, they pay officers on the border patrol to look on the other side.

CONAN: And how much did it cost you then, Jose?

JOSE: It costs me $400 by then. Now, it costs you about $3,000 average.

CONAN: Three thousand dollars average, and that's for someone from Mexico or Central America to get across?

JOSE: Yes.

CONAN: Okay.

JOSE: And also not just that (unintelligible) the - 30 or 40 percent of the people crossing, they smuggle drugs. And they send two or three guys with a group of 15 or 20 with drugs. And when they get caught, they just (unintelligible), that way somebody else get blamed for it.

CONAN: All right, Jose. Thanks for very much for the call. Appreciate it.

JOSE: Thank you.

CONAN: And briefly, Ted Robbins, we have heard more cases of corruption of U.S. Border agents, more cases being prosecuted.

ROBBINS: You know, I think it's inevitable. You put people in - and they get paid pretty well. I think, you know, a starting agent gets about $70,000, but if somebody is going to give you, you know, five, $10,000 just to look the other way every day or several times a day, you know, you're going to get some inevitable corruption.

CONAN: Ted Robbins, NPR correspondent, with us from our bureau in Tucson, Arizona, thanks very much.

ROBBINS: My pleasure.

CONAN: And Edward Alden was here with us at Studio 3A in Washington. He focuses on immigration and visa policy at the Council on Foreign Relations. He's the author of "The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11." Thanks very much for your time today.

Mr. ALDEN: Thank you for having me, Neal.

CONAN: Coming up, we're going to be talking about the Opinion Page this week. Can we negotiate with the Taliban? Are they ready to negotiate with us? Steve Coll will join us. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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