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Analysis of the Texas Border Coalition's Report, Without Strategy: America's Border Security Blunders Facilitate and Empower Mexico's Drug Cartels.

by Nolan Rappaport

On January 12, 2012, the Texas Border Coalition (TBC) released a report[1] on the state of border security between the United States and Mexico. TBC is a collective voice of border mayors, county judges, and economic development commissions which is focused on issues that affect more than 2.1 million people along the Texas-Mexico border region and economically disadvantaged counties from El Paso to Brownsville.[2] According to TBC's report, the results of the United States government's $90 billion effort to secure the border are mixed. The probability of apprehension for illegal entries along the border areas between the official Ports of Entry (POEs) is up to 90%, but it is less than 30% at the POEs. The POEs have become the weakest link in our border security. The Mexican drug cartels continue to enjoy commercial success by exploiting this weakness.

Comments:How is it possible to know that the probability of apprehension is up to 90% in the areas along the border between the POEs? You need to know the total number of attempted entries before you can assign a percentage to apprehensions. You can estimate the total number of attempted entries, but border security estimates are subject to political influences and how reliable can such estimates be in any case? People succeed in entering the United States without being apprehended by avoiding the Border Patrol. How can Border Patrol officers know how many people have snuck past them? And how can anyone know how many aliens have succeeded in entering at POEs without being noticed by using fraudulent documents or hiding in the trunk of a car?

As reported by the Department of Defense and the Government Accountability Office (GAO), America's border security efforts lack strategic direction and operate on an ad hoc basis. Without a strategy for securing the POEs, America will continue to lose the border security war to the better financed, better equipped, more mobile, and more agile drug cartels. In effect, the Federal Government is continuing to fight a costly border security war along the border areas between POEs, where the war already has been won, and resigning our nation to defeat at the POEs.

Comments: The Border Patrol is expected to release a new five-year national strategy early in 2012. Although it is not directed at POE security, it's objectives should lead it there when it is implemented. Reflecting the fact that DHS has deployed many of the resources identified as priorities in previous strategic plans, the new strategy is expected to shift its focus from resource levels to a risk-based analysis that targets resources to the greatest border threats. The program would include working closely with other law enforcement agencies and with other stakeholders to identify top enforcement priorities; to move technology, manpower, and other resources around the border; and to draw on its full range of enforcement responses to maximize the overall effectiveness of DHS border enforcement efforts. [3]

Border Security Background. The Federal Government has invested heavily in manpower, technology, transportation and infrastructure to arrange a multi-layered defense against illegal activities in the areas between the POEs, but the investment at the POEs has been relatively small. This imbalance has produced a substantial differential of risk to those who seek to penetrate the border to cause harm to United States security. The probability of being apprehended by law enforcement in the areas between the POEs is much higher than the probability of being apprehended while attempting to enter the United States at a POE. This contributes to America's vulnerability at the POEs to Mexican drug cartels, terrorists, and traffickers in people and contraband.

Border areas Between the POEs. Since 1993, the number of agents deployed to secure the borders between the POEs has more than sextupled from 4,000 to a projected total of 24,285 in 2012. The Border Patrol budget has increased nine-fold over the same period, from $400 million to $3.6 billion. Also, Congress has funded construction of 670 miles of border fence at a cost to taxpayers of more than $2.4 billion, and an electronic detection system that has been canceled and restarted at a cost exceeding $1 billion.

Comments: CBP has a long record of failing to plan major projects adequately, failing to provide sufficient fiscal oversight, and failing to see projects through to completion. For instance, consider the border wall at Cameron and Hidalgo Counties in South Texas. There are broad openings in the expanse of the twenty-foot wall about every quarter to half mile, openings designed to allow farmers access to their land between the Rio Grande River and the wall. Is anything missing? Yes, they forgot the gates. In fact, two years after completion of the wall, more than 50 gates in Hidalgo County are missing-in-action. No reason to go over the wall or under it when you literally can walk through it at more than 50 different spots in one county alone. [4]

Currently, CBP is responsible for developing and building the Arizona Border Surveillance Technology Plan (Plan), a massive effort that CBP estimates will cost $1.5 billion over the next ten years. The objective is to place surveillance technology along several hundred miles of the border between Arizona and Mexico. Prospects of success are not promising. GAO has found that CBP failed to reasonably justify the proposed surveillance technologies, that the mission benefits of the Plan were not justified, that there was no post-evaluation of the massive project, and that the estimated cost of the Plan failed to consider a number of factors which could substantially increase the cost. [5] House Homeland Security Committee Ranking Member Bennie Thompson said in response to GAO's report, that the similarities GAO found between the failed SBInet program [6] and aspects of the planned Arizona Border Surveillance Technology plan are both striking and troubling. DHS and CBP must heed GAO's recommendations by conducting a thorough and accurate cost analysis and carefully planning the purchase and deployment of technology. Only then will DHS finally succeed in implementing a border security technology system that Congress and American taxpayers expect. [7]

At the Ports of Entry. Despite expanded responsibility and an exponential increase in the volume of legitimate trade and tourism across the Southwestern border as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement's ratification in 1993, the enforcement budget for Customs inspection personnel at the POEs has seen only a paltry boost when compared to the sharp increase in funding for the Border Patrol. Funding for inspectors increased from $1.6 billion in 1993, to $2.9 billion in 2012. Of that 80% increase over a period of 19 years, nearly three-quarters was consumed by rising inflation.

Comments: In a power point presentation[8] that CBP made at a Joint Working Committee on October 27-28, 2011, CBP asserted that on average, land POEs are more than 40 years old, some more than 70 years old. Rapid post-9/11 evolution of the CBP mission and operational requirements has rendered many of the POEs outmoded. Among other things, they lack capacity to handle steadily increasing traffic volumes. Many of the busiest POEs are site-constrained with limited room for expansion. Increased staffing strains existing facilities, which were designed for a smaller number of officers and administrative personnel. Current funding levels will be inadequate for more than three decades. It would cost approximately $6 billion to fully modernize the POEs.

Also, according to the most recent data released by DHS, only 28% of major violators attempting to enter the United States at POEs are detected and apprehended. In addition, CBP reports only 50% to 74% success in improving the targeting, screening, and apprehension of high-risk international cargo and travelers to prevent terrorist attacks.

Comments: How does DHS know how many major violators were not detected? If they were not detected, DHS would not know that they had made an entry.

Weakness of Data. The lack of statistically reliable information on the number of undocumented aliens residing in or entering the United States hampers effective analysis on border security. In addition, in spite of the data's inherent weakness, DHS considers much of the related data to be law enforcement sensitive and restricts access to it.

Estimating the flow of undocumented migrants often is an approximation based on apprehension data. This data has been supplemented by classified data compiled by DHS which are based on observation from unmanned aerial vehicles patrolling the border. Apprehensions of persons seeking to enter the United States between the POEs have fallen to levels not seen since the 1970s, as the enhanced manpower, mobility, communications, technology and infrastructure have been brought to bear on the traffic. In addition, increased apprehension rates in most Border Patrol sectors impede the trafficking of persons from Mexico to the United States between the POEs.

Comments: In a speech that was released on December 30, 2011, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said, "[O]ur borders are more secure than ever before. Border Patrol apprehensions are down 50% over the past three years and are less than 20% of what they were at their peak." [9] Would we accept that logic if our local police told us that our roads are safer than ever before because the number of speeding tickets was down 50% over the last three years? This type of reasoning reminds me of the "double think" terms in George Orwell's book, 1984,[10] such as, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength. DHS has added, Failure is Success.

Two notes of caution: the data remains weak, and 90% apprehension rates does not mean that only 10% of persons seeking illegal entry succeed. In fact, most of those who attempt to enter the United States illegally try more than one time, and eventually nearly all make it through.

Strategic Response of the Enemy. The cartels are choosing to conduct their trade through the sanctioned POEs and are rejecting the risk of crossing the Rio Grande River and the open desert areas between the POEs. According to the U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Threat Assessment 2010, nearly 90% of cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, MDMA (also known as ecstasy), and heroin smuggled into the United States enters through the POEs. The cash needed for the Mexican drug cartels' illicit and violent activities also transits through the POEs. While data on the smuggling of firearms is incomplete, available information points to POEs as the overwhelming point of entry into Mexico. The conclusion is irrefutable that nearly all of the drugs smuggled into the United States, and the guns and bulk cash smuggled into Mexico, transit via the POEs, which is a strategic choice made by the Mexican cartels because the likelihood of being detected or apprehended is three times more likely in the border areas between the POEs than at them.

Comments: An additional factor, according to the National Drug Threat Assessment 2011, is that the vast Southwest Border provides traffickers with a selection of routes and conveyances for smuggling drugs into the United States. The route, conveyance, and type of drug selected by traffickers are largely determined by the trafficking organization in local control, access to a particular type of drug, the United States markets, and the terrain of the Southwest Border.[11]

Summary. DHS and Congress continue to pour billions of dollars of our national resources into defending the vast expanses of land between the POEs, a path that the enemy has abandoned, while denying resources needed to defend the POEs.

Reports from GAO have described the situation at the POEs as inadequate to the task of protecting the nation. GAO found that managers at 19 of 21 POE offices cited examples of anti-terrorism activities not being carried out, new or expanded facilities that were not fully operational, and radiation monitors and other inspection technologies not being fully used because of staff shortages. At seven of the eight major POEs that GAO visited, officers and managers told of not having sufficient staff, which contributes to morale problems, fatigue, lack of backup support, and safety issues when officers inspect travelers, increasing the potential that terrorists, inadmissible travelers, and illicit goods could enter the country.

DHS officials recently acknowledged publicly that for the POEs to successfully perform their missions, the agency needs 6,000 additional personnel and $6 billion in funding for infrastructure and technology. Nevertheless, Congress has allocated zero dollars to POE infra-structure in FY2011, and is likely to refuse to add funds in FY2012. House and Senate appropriators have both approved the addition of 350 new Customs inspectors in FY2012, but acknowledge that declining customs revenues will force a reduction of an equal number available to the agency, making the added personnel a net of zero.

Comments: POE improvements also would facilitate the development of a system for recording the entries and exits of nonimmigrant alien visitors at POEs, which was mandated by Congress in 1996, after the first World Trade center bombing. David F. Heyman, DHS Assistant Secretary for Policy, testified recently that accurately determining who is lawfully in the United States depends on our ability to record both entries and exits of foreign nationals.[12] It also might eventually make it feasible to consider switching from the current refusal rate standard for admission to the Visa Waiver Program to a standard based on overstays. [13]

Texas Border Coalition Recommendations. TBC urges Congress and the Obama Administration to restore balance to border security at and between the POE crossings by establishing an emergency program to provide the POEs with $6 billion in funding for infrastructure and technology and to employ 6,000 new inspectors on America's front line over the next four years.


3. at P. 12
5 ""
11. at p. 14

About The Author

Nolan Rappaport was an immigration counsel on the House Judiciary Committee. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals. He also has been a policy advisor for the DHS Office of Information Sharing and Collaboration under a contract with TKC Communications, and he has spent time in private practice as an immigration lawyer at Steptoe & Johnson. He is retired now, but he welcomes part time and temporary work

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.