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:
- 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
- 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
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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).
- 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
- 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)
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:
- 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
- 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
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.