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Paths to permanent citizenship for immigrants may hinge on the art of 'sign-cutting'

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents along the border returning immigrants to Mexico.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents along the border returning immigrants to Mexico.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

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If you’ve never heard of “sign-cutting,” don’t feel bad. The term refers to the art of tracking people by looking for signs that they’ve passed through an area...a footstep in the sand, a broken tree branch, a discarded apple core. The practice has become an important tool for border patrol agents on the U.S.-Mexico border who are tasked with tracking down those attempting to cross illegally and thwart their effort to immigrate. Now it’s been written into the proposed immigration reform legislation as the only accepted mode of measuring the success rate of border patrol’s efforts.

The legislation says that for the paths to permanent citizenship to open up to those hoping to officially become U.S. citizens, 90 percent of attempts to illegally cross the border into the United States must be stopped. Sign-cutters will be responsible for those counts, thus elevating an art to a science.

With all the technology available today, isn’t it strange that such important, life-changing legislation will hinge on how someone reads a set of footprints? Could this requirement give immigration reforms critics an easy loophole to kill the legislation?

Ted Alden, senior fellow at the non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations in Washington D.C., where he focuses on immigration policy

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