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For the past two decades, policy officials and human-rights groups in both Europe and the US have participated in a vicious cycle of criticizing each other over the impact of border-control policies. Many activists hold enforcement authorities responsible for the human impact of migration enforcement, evident in allegations of increases in human smuggling and the grim realities of migrant deaths. In contrast, policymakers often claim that human rights advocates encourage migration and risk-taking by proposing consequence-free international transit, which exacerbates the problem. Although the role of free-trade policies and supply chains is critical to understanding the border-management landscape in which these activities play out, customs laws are rarely considered by either side in this debate.

This policy paper considers the impact of multinational corporations on border control through so-called trusted trader and traveller programmes, whose aim is to reduce border inspections for individuals and companies by allowing inspectors to pre-screen cargo and passengers who pass background investigations. Although these programmes have become essential to the management of global supply chains, they often create an illusion of increased security while simultaneously intensifying the divide between those who are and those who are not willing to pay the fees to participate in them.

The paper also critically examines two pillars of American border policy – beyond-the-border initiatives and joint border management – and compares them with security elements of the European system. These mechanisms, which increased sharply through American-led initiatives following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, often appear effective and harmless, and therefore receive little scrutiny.

But both in the US and Europe, multinational border-control agreements have been subjected to little scrutiny, and there has been minimal effort to examine the impact on irregular migration and the protection of people on the move, as immigration policies become increasingly restrictive.

Free trade, human smuggling and international border management, 2018

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David Danelo

David Danelo teaches and conducts field research, consults on international border management, investigates geopolitical risk, and writes about intersections between policy, security and culture.

Danelo graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1998 and was a Marine Corps infantry officer for seven years. In 2004, then-Captain Danelo served near Fallujah as a convoy commander, intelligence officer and provisional executive officer. From 2011-2012, he was the Executive Director, Policy and Planning, US Customs and Border Protection. He has also directed field research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and is affiliated faculty at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Danelo’s first two books, BLOOD STRIPES and THE BORDER, are both assigned to professional reading lists. His third book, THE RETURN, is required reading for several veteran advocacy groups. His latest book, THE FIELD RESEARCHER’S HANDBOOK, is a guide about traveling for fieldwork. He lives in West Texas.


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