Other journalists have taken a look at how steady demands for more border security—and reform advocates’ willingness to accede to them—amount to dollar signs for big contractors. The Washington Post’s Matea Gold got behind the $46 billion in border security proposed by the Senate to uncover a wish list of helicopters, drones, databases and more, many being sold by top defense companies making up for lost business over at the Pentagon. San Antonio Express-News columnist O. Ricardo Pimental noted the parallels between the border build-up and Congress’s appetite for even unwanted defense spending, and wryly commented: “There used to be a pejorative for that—profiteering.” And back in May, The Arizona Republic’s Bob Ortega did a good job of examining the consequences of $106 billion in border spending over the past five years. The results? Illegal crossings in the Tucson sector are down over 90 percent, but smuggling—guns headed south and drugs headed north—is actually up.

Oh, and some more context for the security debate: Remember SBINet, an integrated system of sensors, drones, and databases conceived during the 2006 debate, to be managed by Boeing to the tune of $8 billion? Well, it had to be shut down by the Department of Homeland Security in 2011 as a colossal and expensive failure.

Economics. The effect of immigration on wages is a famously controversial subject, but the prevailing view among academic researchers is that new immigration actually boosts real wages for almost everyone—except earlier immigrants. (Here’s Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews on that issue.) And the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the Senate bill—rendered in colorful infographic form by the Houston Chronicle—concluded that comprehensive reform would improve the federal government’s finances, even with those security costs accounted for.

Another study, from the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, concluded that legalization of existing unauthorized immigrants will boost state and local tax revenues, particularly in states with no sales taxes. That analysis was written up just this week by U.S. News & World Report’s Lauren Fox, who also cited a critique from the conservative Heritage Foundation.

The view from the other side. Recollections of prior reform debates are valuable, but it’s also important to remember what has changed in the 27 years since Washington last overhauled the law: the economic options facing potential migrants. The Mexican economy is far stronger now than it was in 1986, and it’s keeping more workers at home. (Of course, Mexico is not the only country that sends immigrants to the US.) And the American economy is sluggish, with over 7 percent unemployment, and less of a magnet for immigrants looking for work. Security upgrades on the border, even if not always cost-effective, also factor into the calculus here.

In 2011 and 2012, The New York Times’s Damien Cave delivered an ambitious series on these developments and how they are shaping views in Mexico and across Latin America. (It’s archived here.) But too often coverage is framed as if the important events are all happening here, and the rest of the world is static. Even in newsrooms with limited resources, it would be useful for reporters to study public opinion in Mexico and the rest of the world to see how attitudes toward immigration have changed, or not.

All told, it’s probably a good thing that Congress is about to go on its summer vacation. It’ll mean some slower news cycles, but that will give reporters, producers, and editors a little more time to think without being bogged down by quotes, sound bites, and process so they can piece together the big picture—just by looking at the fundamentals.

Follow @USProjectCJR for more posts from this author and the rest of the United States Project team.

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Richard Parker is CJR's Texas correspondent. A regular contributor to the Op-Ed section of The New York Times, his columns on national and international affairs are syndicated by McClatchy-Tribune. He has also twice been appointed the visiting professional in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow him on Twitter @Richard85Parker.