A United States Border Patrol vehicle patrols on watch at a border fence along the a South Texas border in the Rio Grande Valley.
Technological solutions offer a more effective way to control the Rio Grande than an expensive and intrusive wall. Credit: Flickr / Donna Burton for U.S. Customs and Border Protection

In 2017, I authored a white paper titled “Common Sense Border Security Solutions,” which I have shared with members of Congress, Trump administration officials, and other leaders in the public and private sectors across the country. In it, I presented a plan for addressing border security and immigration that is both sensible and fiscally responsible and serves our national interests.

My perspective is that of someone who has lived and worked for decades only a stone’s throw from the Rio Grande and who is a member of organizations such as the U.S.-Mexico CEO Dialogue and the U.S.-Mexico Economic Council.

Unfortunately, too many people in Washington would rather make decisions based on ideology and politics rather than listen to the folks who are the most knowledgeable and the most affected by these issues at the local level. This approach promotes poor decision making that creates only conflict rather than offering a sensible resolution.

One practical solution I recommend is to clean up the Rio Grande and give U.S. Customs and Border Patrol greater access and visibility. Eradicating nonnative, invasive vegetation, building all-weather roads for easier access to the river, and developing a larger buffer zone between the two countries would make it much harder for both criminals and immigrants to even attempt illegal entry.

Having taken these steps, the area could then be managed much more effectively with technological solutions, such as motion detectors, cameras, and infrared sensors. This approach is a faster, cheaper, and more effective way to patrol and control the river, as opposed to a far more expensive and intrusive wall.

A second solution would be to clear the backlog of cases in immigration court. Once again, there’s a very practical way to accomplish this: hire more immigration judges.

The real problem with border security is not apprehension; rather, it is processing the cases through the U.S. legal system. As immigration enforcement budgets have more than quadrupled over the past five years, funding and staffing for immigration courts have lagged far behind. In addition, detention facilities are costing taxpayers millions of dollars per month.

This money could be better invested in more post-apprehension resources, such as additional immigration courts. Border towns could be staffed with sufficient asylum officers, immigration judges, and consular officers to hear cases and then make final determinations on-site. This is much more efficient than warehousing illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.

Even with these common-sense solutions, the issue of border security cannot be addressed without addressing the need for immigration reform. We need an immigration policy that tackles the United States’ need for workers.

The U.S. requires between 600,000 and 650,000 low-skilled workers every year to keep the economy growing. We simply do not produce that type of worker in the amount we need. That deficit along with the rapid decline in birth rates worldwide, including here in the U.S., make it clear that our economy will suffer due to a lack of human capital without a sensibly reformed immigration policy.

To solve the border security problem, we must look at reasonable and productive solutions that benefit both the U.S. and Mexico, our neighbor and third-largest trading partner. We must develop a border security plan with Mexico that continues to foster economic development and our good neighbor policies that have been in place for generations.

The Trump administration should speak with people who live and do business in border communities here in Texas to find practical solutions for both border security and immigration policy. Doing so will help build broad support for initiatives that are far more effective and far less costly than a border wall and that serve the long-term interests of the U.S.

Dennis E. Nixon is CEO of International Bank of Commerce in Laredo and chairman of the board of International Bancshares Corporation.