April 21, 2009
By James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
On the border, you expect strange things to happen. When the
Yuma County Sherriff's Office got the call to report to a crash
site--a lettuce field just north of San Luis--officers didn't know
what to expect. New Mexico had its legendary UFO encounter at
Roswell--maybe this would put Arizona's San Luis on the map. What
they found was pretty strange indeed.
Responding officers had lots of company on the scene: Border
Patrol, San Luis police, local firefighters… a dead body, a
strange craft--and over 140 lbs of marijuana.
The dead man was the pilot of an ultralight aircraft. It had
crashed on a dark, November night, as the pilot made a drug
smuggling run across the border.
Smuggling over America's southern border is big business--a $25
billion-a-year-plus industry. With those stakes, the cartels have
plenty of money and incentive to find ways to beat border security.
This one involved the use an ultralight, a motorized glider.
Ultralights are perfectly legal. Affordable too. Just a few
thousand dollars for a basic rig. Anyone can buy, sell, or trade
them on the Internet. A typical ultralight weighs less than 254
lbs, carries about five gallons of gas and a single occupant, and
tops out at 63 miles an hour. No license is required.
The fact that they are small and quiet makes them difficult to
spot on radar. They can hop over U.S. security at the border with
Ultralights are not ideal for smuggling. They are not meant to
be flown at night. They are not for carrying cargo either. Both
factors likely contributed to the San Luis smuggler's demise.
But they do demonstrate the Department of Homeland Security
faces a determined and resourceful enemy on the Southern
border--one that will try anything to make a buck or a peso.
And the bad guys won't stop with ultralights. Since 2006,
drug-smuggling submarines--home-made underwater craft laden with
cocaine--have increasingly made their way into U.S. waters.
Motivated enemies like this won't be stopped with half-hearted
Last week President Barack Obama went to Mexico, and Homeland
Secretary Janet Napolitano announced new initiatives--both
intending to send the message that they take border security
seriously. Here is the test to determine if their actions live up
to their rhetoric.
The administration can't fight cartels and ignore illegal
immigration. People smuggling is part of the problem, not a
separate issue. The Border Patrol has to fight both. The more
people crossing unlawfully, the more difficult it will be for the
patrol to focus on organized transnational threats.
Legalization will only make matters worse. Granting asylum to
people here illegally would only encourage more illegal border
crossing. It always has in the past, because people assume that--if
they enter illegally, they'll eventually be "amnestied" too.
Likewise, failure to enforce workplace and immigration laws only
encourages more to ignore the law.
The fight has to go beyond the border. Frankly, just adding
inspections on people heading south is not going to work. Homeland
Security drug searches will inconvenience everyone, but the cartels
won't mind. They can afford to lose some of their loads--and their
mules--as the price of doing business. And if the searches get
really intense, they'll simply seek alternative routes and
On the U.S. side there has to be a robust, integrated response
of federal, state, and local law enforcement. It will take a
coordinated effort--meshing with is going on in California,
Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico--to target and break up the cartel
and transnational gang networks.
At the local level, we need more community policing that targets
criminal elements in the border community. That means more support
and assistance for border county sheriff departments.
That's the test. We'll see in the month ahead how Homeland
Security measures up.
Carafano is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation
and the author of GI Ingenuity: Improvisation, Technology and
Winning World War II.
First Appeared in the Washington Examiner
On the border, you expect strange things to happen. When the Yuma County Sherriff's Office got the call to report to a crash site--a lettuce field just north of San Luis--officers didn't know what to expect. New Mexico had its legendary UFO encounter at Roswell--maybe this would put Arizona's San Luis on the map. What they found was pretty strange indeed.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.
Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow
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