From the March 1, 2010, edition of High Country News...
If the press reports this sort of thing, it is framed as part of a War on Drugs that must be won. These stories are fables at best. There is no serious War on Drugs. Rather, there is violence, nourished by the money to be made from drugs. And there are U.S. industries whose primary lifeblood comes from fighting a war on drugs. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, has 225,000 employees and a budget of $42 billion, part of which is aimed at making America safe from Mexico and Mexicans. Narcotics officers in the U.S. cost at least $40 billion a year. The world's largest prison industry would collapse without the intake of drug convicts, and, in recent years, of illegal Mexican migrants. And around the republic there are big new federal courthouses rising that would be cobwebbed without the steady flow from drug busts and the Mexican poor coming north.
On the border, Adam Smith meets magical realism. Here the market tenets of supply and demand, the basic engine of both the migration and the drug industry, are supposed to be overturned magically by a police state. Consider one simple number: The border is 1,900 miles long. If two people slipped through each mile in a 24-hour period, that would amount to 3,800 people a day. That adds up to 1,387,000 people a year. Or consider this: One bridge from Juarez to El Paso handles 600,000 semi-trucks a year. One semi with a freight load of 24 tons could probably tote enough heroin to satisfy the U.S. market for a year. Add to the mix the inevitable corruption of the police agencies: A few months ago, a Border Patrol agent in southern Arizona was busted for running dope in his official car for 500 bucks a load.
Almost certainly, the drug industry and illegal migration are the two most successful anti-poverty initiatives in the history of the world. The drug industry has poured tens of billions of dollars annually into the hands of ill-educated and largely poor people. Illegal migration has taken people who were lucky to earn $5 a day and instantly given them jobs that pay 10 or 20 times that much. It has also financed the remittances, over $20 billion dollars shipped from immigrants in the U.S. back into the homes of Mexico's poor each year. No government can match these achievements. And tens of thousands of people in the U.S. agencies are earning far better salaries fighting drugs and the Mexican poor than they could ever make in the private sector. After, say, five years, the average Border Patrol agent is knocking down 75 grand a year, plus generous benefits and serious job security. DEA is infested with agents earning six figures. And these industries are literally failure-proof -- the more Mexicans that migrate, and the more drugs that arrive, the more agents that are hired.