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Another Obstacle in the Wars on Drugs and Immigrants

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Black-market principles are posing a new obstacle for advocates of the wars on drugs and immigrants. According to a front-page article in the New York Times, an increasing number of Customs and Border Patrol officials are accepting bribes in return for agreeing to look the other way when drug smugglers and immigrant smugglers come through their areas.

Here is how the black-market operates. The government makes some peaceful activity illegal, such as the possession and distribution of drugs or the illegal entry of immigrants into the United States. Immediately, the prices of drugs and immigrants go up because supply of both items is being constrained by the new laws.

The higher prices—and profits—provide an incentive for people to begin smuggling the banned items, in this case drugs and immigrants. That, in turn, causes government officials to crack down, which then makes it riskier to engage in the smuggling operations. That constrains supply, which then causes black-market prices—and profits—to soar.

Ultimately, the cycle continues to such a point where black-market profits are so exorbitant that it becomes worth it to expand the cost of doing business to bribery of government officials. In Latin American countries, where public officials do not earn extremely high salaries, it takes less money to get those officials to look the other way.

In the United States, where government salaries are quite handsome, it obviously takes more money to get the official to look the other way. For example, Michael Gilliland, a 46-year-old highly revered and respected U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, accepted $70,000 to $120,000 for letting illegal immigrants pass through his lane at the border.

According to the Times, a favorite ruse that smugglers employ, especially with middle-aged Customs and Border Patrol agents, is to deploy attractive women to flirt, charm, and beg them to let in an unauthorized immigrant—“just this once.”

U.S. officials can be quite clever. For example, two Border Patrol agents would drive their van to the border and open the back doors, permitting a load of illegal immigrants to enter the vehicle. They then would drive them to a safe place in San Diego, where they would then be transported north. If they were intercepted along the way, the agents were prepared to show that they had arrested the immigrants and were taking them in for processing.

According to the Times article, there have been “scores of corruption cases in recent years that have alarmed officials in the Homeland Security Department just as it is hiring thousands of border agents to stem the flow of illegal immigration…. Altogether, there are about 200 open cases pending against law enforcement employees who work the border…. While the corruption investigations involve a small fraction of the overall security workforce on the border, the numbers are growing.”

Hiring all those new people only exacerbates the problem, which is why there are now plans afoot to give lie detector tests to applicants. As one border official put it, “It’s very difficult for us to get out and vet each and every one of the applicants as well as we should.”

One customs officer, who had been on the job for less than a year, has been charged with knowingly letting several vehicles loaded with dozens of illegal immigrants and pounds of illegal drugs pass through. One of the vehicles belonged to his uncle. The officer has pleaded not guilty. The feds found $175,000 in cash in his house.

So, what do the drug warriors and immigration warriors do now? Well, I suppose they’d say that we just need to now crack down even more fiercely, not only on the drug lords and illegal immigrant smugglers but also on U.S. officials. Never mind that U.S. prisons are already overflowing and that the United States now incarcerates more people per capita than even the police state of communist China. In the minds of the warriors, when it comes to the war on drugs and the war on immigrants, no price is too high to pay. Anyway, think of the increased jobs for those in the burgeoning prison industry.

When will all this interventionist madness come to a stop? When a sufficient number of Americans finally reach the conclusion that Americans reached when they ended Prohibition: It will never work, at least not without a massive police state, and, more important, it’s just plain wrong.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.