Executive Summary: 15 Steps to Better Border Security: Reducing America's Southern Exposure

Report Homeland Security

Executive Summary: 15 Steps to Better Border Security: Reducing America's Southern Exposure

March 9, 2009 4 min read Download Report
Jena Baker McNeill
Jena Baker McNeill
Senior Associate Fellow

Jena Baker McNeill is a homeland security policy analyst.

One of the concerns raised by the 9/11 terrorist attacks was the security of U.S. borders.  The failed congressional attempt at comprehensive immigration reform focused renewed attention on the U.S. border with Mexico as well as on the challenges of illegal bor­der crossings and surges in cross-border crime. In response, the Bush Administration employed addi­tional Border Patrol agents, deployed new technolo­gies at the border, and erected physical barriers.  Sustaining these efforts is an essential component of regaining control of America's southern border and battling cross-border crime cartels while improving the flow of legal goods and services across the border. 

Reinventing the wheel on border security would be a waste of resources and would further delay real security at America's borders. Following is a guide­line for the Obama Administration and Congress.

To meet the demands of training new Border Patrol agents, Congress and DHS should:

  1. Expand Border Patrol training capacities. Congress should provide additional funds for new classrooms, living space, firing ranges, physical fitness facilities, and training areas at the Border Patrol Academy and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, along with mon­ies for additional staff and instructors.
  2. Find alternative training avenues. U.S. Cus­toms and Border Protection (CBP) must find faster and more innovative strategies by which to train agents without sacrificing the quality of training.
  3. Use contractors to provide more manpower. Contract workers could be used to meet tempo­rary manpower needs while CBP recruits more Border Patrol agents.

    SBInet is a tool that has the promise to provide security in areas of the border where physical fencing does not make sense. Congress can ensure the success of SBInet by:
  4. Ensuring that SBInet is fully funded. Congress has diverted some of the SBInet funds to physical fencing in the past. But doing this again or using SBInet money for another border project will sim­ply continue to delay implementation-costing the U.S. government more money and time.
  5. Reforming congressional oversight of DHS. Congress should provide clearer oversight- ensuring that both contractors and DHS officials are taking the right steps at the border by con­solidating oversight of homeland security into four committees, two in the House and two in the Senate.

    Future infrastructure investments must focus primarily on the ports of entry, not only to improve security but also to reduce the cost of transaction times for moving goods, people, and services across the border expeditiously.
  6. Encourage private-sector investment in border infrastructure. The government can encourage the private sector to take these steps in a number of ways, for example, by expanding the protec­tions of the Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY) Act.

    Under Section 287 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), DHS can enter into assis­tance compacts with state and local govern­ments. To strengthen this program, Congress and DHS should:
  7. Promote participation in Section 287 (g). DHS should create and implement a marketing strategy that would inform states of the program and encourage nationwide implementation of Section 287 (g). Creating a national center for best practices and lessons learned, and requiring DHS to report to Congress each year on the pro­gram's progress will help to ensure the contin­ued success of Section 287 (g). 
  8. Allow flexibility with homeland security grants. Congress should allow states and cities participating in Section 287 (g) to use funds from homeland security grants to provide community policing at the border, including overtime for state and local law enforcement agents assisting in fed­eral immigration enforcement investigations.
  9. Expand DHS Border Enforcement Security Taskforces (BEST) to include 287 (g). These task forces involve federal, state, and local enti­ties working with the Mexican government to tackle cross-border crime and secure the border. The 287 (g) programs will need to receive a cer­tain amount of legitimacy from DHS in order to recruit participants, retain public support, and fulfill their missions. One way to achieve this is by expanding the already successful BEST task forces to formally include 287 (g) programs.

    The best way to minimize safety and liability ramifications is to encourage states to organize State Defense Forces (SDFs). To promote the cre­ation of SDFs, Congress should:
  10. Require DHS and the Department of Defense to encourage border states to form SDFs. DHS should prepare a strategy by which to inform and market SDFs to state governments and citizens.
  11. Provide funds to establish a system of accreditation and standards for SDFs. Such a system is vital to the success of SDFs-and is the best means by which to decrease liability and increase safety.
  12. Collaborate with states to create legal-guide pamphlets. DHS should work with states to pro­duce legal-guide pamphlets that would serve as a resource for private citizens, such as border-area property owners, who must often deal with ille­gal aliens trespassing on their property.

    Finally, the U.S. should:
  13. Expand the Merida Initiative. Around $300 million of the $1.5 billion allocated for the anti-drug program has been spent so far. The U.S. needs to go further to ensure that all of these monies are spent to provide this valuable assistance.
  14. Leave NAFTA alone. NAFTA has produced positive economic benefits for both the U.S. and Mexico. Given the agreement's benefits, President Obama should not attempt to rewrite NAFTA and should instead reaffirm his com­mitment to the agreement.
  15. Provide full funding for the Coast Guard. Maritime security efforts must be enhanced in conjunction with land security. The Coast Guard acts as the law enforcement for the high seas; however, it lacks the resources and capac­ities to do its job as effectively as it could.

Conclusion. Gaining control of the border is not optional-the security of the United States depends on the ability and determination of the U.S. govern­ment to keep its citizens safe. But the U.S. can and should do it in such a way that encourages prosper­ity for both Americans and Mexicans alike.

Jena Baker McNeill is Policy Analyst for Home­land Security in the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.


Jena Baker McNeill
Jena Baker McNeill

Senior Associate Fellow