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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    More than security

    The announcement last week that the UA willlead a $15 million border project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was hailed almost unanimously as a great achievement.

    The Arizona Daily Star said that the federal government “”could not have picked a more fitting university to tackle the challenges of immigration and border security,”” and UA President Robert Shelton commended the new venture’s opportunity for “”expanding our standing as international leaders into a new realm of social challenges.””

    There’s no question that the UA, an excellent research center located near the busiest border sector in the United States, ought to be the premier location for ideas and innovation regarding the U.S.-Mexico border.

    It’s also hard to argue with a $15 million handout to augment already excellent academic programs. But we urge the new Center of Excellence to do more than merely study border security.

    The new project, officially called the Center of Excellence for Border Security and Immigration, is part of a larger Centers of Excellence program designed by Homeland Security to bring together groups of colleges and research institutions to “”conduct multidisciplinary research and education for homeland security solutions.””

    Eight such centers have already been established, focusing on areas as varied as protecting food supplies, predicting threats to national security, and preventing biowarfare attacks, and led by research universities across the U.S.

    The new border institute’s research will be led by UA, and its educational mission – which includes training many of the Americans responsible for watching the border as employees of agencies like the Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement – will be led by the University of Texas at El Paso. Both universities were selected by the federal government after competing to land the lucrative project. The border institute’s specific mission “”will be to assess threats and vulnerabilities, improve surveillance and screening, analyze immigration trends and help to enhance policy and law enforcement efforts,”” according to Homeland Security. Last week, the Wildcat reported that the center will study “”border security communication, surveillance, situational awareness and risk management.””

    Those are all areas where UA’s research prowess will be a big asset for the federal government. But they also typify the security-obsessed state of discussion over border and immigration issues. The U.S.-Mexico border region is more than a stretch of fencing to be locked down and protected – it’s a complex place with a heritage defined by centuries of interaction between unique cultures. We hope that accepting money to study security won’t prevent the UA from examining the true nature of life along the wire.

    After all, developing a sensible and humane border policy has never been more essential. Border enforcement takes a heavy toll in human lives and taxpayer dollars. There were 237 confirmed border deaths last year alone, and according to a new study by researchers here at the UA and at San Diego State University, Arizona’s four border counties alone spent $26.6 million on border security, ostensibly the domain of a federal government that spends billions on the border itself.

    UA’s new Center for Excellence is a commendable achievement for the UA, but it’s also an important opportunity to influence the polarized and partisan debate over immigration and border security. We urge the UA to use it wisely.

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