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Oct. 23 (Bloomberg View) — The U.S.-Mexican border has had quite a year. In the spring, it offered the spectacle of tens of thousands of Central American children (and some mothers) crossing, hoping to have their tickets punched for the American Dream. Now, with Ebola and Islamic State terrorists dominating our imaginations, the border features in political ads as the unhinged back door through which our nightmares enter.

Despite such earnest warnings from deeply sincere political candidates, the border is not actually so bad. Ebola and Islamic State terrorists do not appear to be crossing in overwhelming quantities. However, more than 2,400 unaccompanied minors did cross the border in September. That’s about 8,000 fewer than in June, when traffic peaked. September’s pace would put the U.S. on track for almost 30,000 children per year, flooding an immigration court system with a backlog of 400,000 cases. Still, it’s worth noting that the greatest challenge along the U.S side of the border right now seems to be migrant children.

The border will never be sealed; if land routes ever become impassable, migrants and traffickers will arrive by sea. It will remain a problem as long as desperation exists in the south and an enormous appetite for illegal drugs (and cheap labor) rumbles up north. For the most part, however, the future is looking up. Violent crime along the U.S. side has been trending down, even if yelling about it has not. Illegal immigration has also declined significantly over the past decade. Meanwhile, more than $1 billion worth of goods and more than one million people legally cross the U.S.-Mexico border daily.

I’m not the only optimist.

Princeton professor, Douglas Massey, a sharp critic of the U.S. border crackdown, envisions a more open, free-flowing border in 25 years. “That would be rational given that Mexico’s income is rising relative to that in the U.S., fertility is at parity with the U.S., and Mexico is becoming an aging society,” he wrote in an email. “The boom in undocumented migration is over for good, in my opinion, and at some point the cost of massive border enforcement will exceed its symbolic political value.”

Stuart Anderson, a policy advisor at the Immigration and Naturalization Service under President George W. Bush, suggested that U.S. politics will evolve to meet the challenge. “I think 25 years from now illegal entry will be much less of a concern because Congress would have passed measures to allow legal work visas for lower-skilled jobs in the U.S. and economic and demographic changes south of the border will likely mean less interest in coming to the United States to work,” he wrote via email. “It then will be easier for technology and border personnel to monitor the border once natural economic forces are directed into legal channels, as opposed to today, when workers from the south often enter the black market in labor and utilize human smuggling cartels because legal avenues are not considered a viable option.”

In other words, improved economies south of the border, and more rational migrant labor policies north of it, will lead the way to more legal border crossings and fewer illegal ones. Simon Rosenberg, a pro-immigration advocate, points out that even with all the border’s troubles, that future is already unfolding: Trade is increasing as illegal immigration declines. “It’s been a policy success,” he said by email.

Of course, it’s possible that these people don’t get out much, that they live in ivory towers or gated communities or homes for the deluded and blinkered. Or it’s possible that they’re a little more honest about the realities of the U.S. border than the sleazy politicians trying to scare the rest of us.

Photo: Fronteras Desk via Flickr

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