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4 things to keep in mind about 'securing the border'

With President Barack Obama due to pitch his new immigration reform plan today -- a plan that is likely to include a number of new border security measures in addition to providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants -- the release of a new report from the South Texas border by the Washington Office on Latin America seems particularly well timed. The authors, Adam Isacson and Maureen Meyer, reach several conclusions that are rarely discussed in the U.S. media but are worth keeping in mind as the new debate over border security heats up:

1. The migrants crossing the border are increasingly non-Mexican. Overall, arrests along the border are down since the mid-2000s, suggesting that fewer people are attempting to cross. The exception is the area the authors examine -- the Rio Grande Valley sector in South Texas bording Mexico's Tamaulipas state, where there was a 60-70 percent increase in apprehensions in 2011. 

Virtually all of this growth consists of what local authorities call "OTMS" -- other than Mexican. This migrants are mostly from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador and in addition to economic concerns, are often motivated by the skyrocketing crime rates in their home countries. For the first time, non-Mexicans now account for the majority of migrants apprehended in South Texas. The Tamaulipas-Texas section of the border is the closest geographically to these countries. 

2. Deportations can be death sentences Though it continues to be painted as soft on illegal immigration by Republican opponents, the Obama administration has touted the record number of deporations it has carried out, more than 1.5 million so far, as evidence that it takes border enforcement seriously. But there's been less discussion of the often dangerous fate that awaits these immigrants when they arrive back in Mexico. Isacson and Meyer write: 

Despite the region’s security crisis, the U.S. government continues to deport apprehended migrants to these Mexican border cities in large numbers. Mexican migration authorities have counted more than 58,000 deportees arriving in Matamoros alone in 2012. In this city, agents of the Grupo Beta—Mexico’s National Migration Institute’s search and rescue unit—told us that rather than rescuing migrants in distress, their main task is now protecting repatriated migrants. In addition to Mexicans detained in the interior of the United States and deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the relatively new U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Alien Transfer Exit Program (ATEP) deports some detained migrants “laterally” by sending them to Mexican border towns hundreds of miles from where they were captured in  order to break the link between the migrant and his smuggler. Most migrants apprehended in south Texas who end up being deported through ATEP get sent on a near-daily flight 1,000 miles westward to Calexico, California, from which they are sent into the relatively low-crime city of Mexicali, Baja California. However, a smaller but very troubling number of ATEP migrants are still detained elsewhere and deported into Matamoros. As they arrive in this unfamiliar city, these deportees face a high probability of being preyed upon—or even recruited—by the criminals who control illegal activity. That U.S. authorities would be moving migrants from elsewhere along the border and deporting them into high-risk Matamoros is inexplicable.

In fact, a review of data from Mexican security and migration authorities reveals a troubling trend: as border zones become less secure, they receive more deportees. In every Mexican border state that saw an increase in homicides since 2009, deportations from the United States also increased. In Mexican states where homicides declined, deportations also declined.

The authors make clear that they're not suggesting U.S. immigration authorities are intentionally putting deported migrants in harm's way, but the data suggests their eventual safety is not a major concern. 

3. Increased drug trafficking is not leading to "spillover" violence Increased security measures along the border does not appear to be slowing down drug smugglers, with seizures of heroin, marijuana, and increasingly popular liquid methamphetamine continuing to rise in South Texas. However, the authors find a wide concensus among local law enforcement agencies that the drug trade has not led to an increase in violent crime on the U.S. side of the border. In fact, 10 of the 13 largest U.S. cities along the border have seen their violent crime rates drop.  

4. Weaker cartels may not necessarily be good for migrants The report finds that the Zetas cartel's traditional hold on this area of the border may be slipping due to internal divisions over control of the smuggling routes and a drawn-out war with the rival Sinaloa cartel. Analyzing the report, Elyssa Pachico at Insight Crime suggests that despite the fact that Zetas have frequently victimized migrants along the border, their diminished control may not necessarily make things safer: 

As InSight Crime previously documented in a three-part report on the dangers facing migrants, the Zetas are not the only organization who pose a threat to those moving northwards from Central America. The Zetas typically contract street gangs to harass, rob, and even kidnap migrants as they move along their route. With the Zetas weakening, this could possibly empower street gangs to prey on migrants even more aggressively, in order to keep the money extorted from migrants for themselves. If the Zetas continue to lose power and influence along the US-Mexico border, it will likely make migrants' journey even more dangerous and unpredictable.

None of these issues are likely to be much discussed in the forthcoming debate on the border policy, but they're an important part of the bigger picture. 

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The best user reviews on Google’s new map of North Korea

The new user-generated Google Map of North Korea unveiled with some fanfare on the company''s blog Monday is a bit less than it initally seems. It isn't the most detailed publicly available map of North Korea. It's not even the most detailed map produced by Google -- that title belongs to the North Korea Uncovered project, produced by Google Earth, which has truly extensive mapping of the isolated country from its dams to its power stations and even its restaurants. (The head of that project, Curtis Melvin, comes off a touch bitter about all the attention the new Google Maps project has received in this Wall Street Journal story).

Where Google Maps does win out, however, is in easy accessibility (North Korea Uncovered requires a few downloads before it's usable). As an added bonus, the user review feature has produced a bit of a snarkfest. Users have left reviews on North Korean landmarks ranging from parks and monuments to gulags and nuclear testing facilities. While some are earnest, the vast majority are decidedly not. Here's a sampling of what's been posted:

Nuclear Test Facility, North Hamgyong, North Korea

Of all the barren, post-nuclear, wastelands I have visited this was by far the best. Of course Los Alamos is the classic, but no where else do you feel the warmth of the radioactive decay take you in its soft embrace quite as vividly as in the Hamgyong Nuclear Test Facility. However, be warned, reservations are required, as Hamgyong, is very exclusive. In fact, it is not uncommon to encounter the upper echelons of North Korean society. Once, I even met the North's biggest film star, Zao Xioping, who has stared in such famous films as, "Glory to the Industrial Proletariat in Their Moment of Triumph Over the Decadent Capitalists," and of course who could forget his appearance in the 2010 classic "Kim Il Sung and the Temple of Doom." If you're visiting the nearby Hamgyong Concentration Camp, the Nuclear Test Facility is a must!!

-E RR

 

Hwasong Gulag

Whilst it doesn't have the international reputation of Bukchang, Hwasong is certainly worth a visit for any gulag enthusiast.

-Chloe G.

 

Kumsusan Memorial Palace, Pyongyang

I found the fish tacos to be really underwhelming

-Richie Heimbrock

 

East Pyongyang Market, Pyongyang

Service is good, but selection is sub-par.

-Nicholas Toecker

Just a handful of what's out there, and there will surely be more to come