November 28, 2005

November 28, 2005 | Executive Summary on Department of Homeland Security

Exectuive Summary: Safeguarding America's Sovereignty: A

Any effective solution for reducing illegal border crossings and the unlawful population in the United States must address all three aspects of the problem: internal enforcement of immigration laws, international cooperation, and border secu­rity. Internal enforcement and international coop­eration are essential to reducing and deterring the flood of illegal entrants into the United States, mak­ing the challenge of securing America's borders affordable and achievable.

However, these initiatives will not be enough. A reduced flow at the border does not promise an absence of threat. The border will always need to be secured against terrorists and transnational crimi­nals (e.g., human, drug, and arms smugglers). The federal government must do a better job of protect­ing the nation from these 21st century dangers.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff recently announced the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), a "vision" for securing America's borders. However, the plan does not appear to go far enough in providing the "transformation" that the secretary touted in a speech announcing the Secure Border Initiative.

The current "layered systems" approach to U.S. border security is inadequate and is still entrenched in the Department of Homeland Security's mindset. A layered defense suggests that the border can be secured by multiple security features, with each layer backing up the others so that no layer has to be perfect.

The problem is that the layered approach does not prioritize investments. Not all layers are of equal value. In fact, investments are often based more on politics than on sound strategy. The most powerful stakeholders and influential advocates tend to get their priorities funded first and best. Meanwhile, the United States has underinvested in the most important components of the system, such as infrastructure (e.g., adequate bridges and roads) at the points of entry.

Furthermore, there is no substantive require­ment that systems work together. To fix the prob­lem, the Administration must build a "system of systems" that welds all of the nation's border assets into a single coherent security enterprise that deploys the right asset to the right place at the right time to do the right thing. To create system-of-systems security, the Administration and Con­gress will need to make key investments in infra­structure, organization, technology, and resources and support these investments with legislation and policy reform. The Secure Border Initiative is a first move in the right direction, but more needs to be done.

The Way Forward. The DHS's Secure Border Initiative is a good step toward securing the U.S. borders in the 21st century. However, while the SBI is called "transformational," it still needs to embrace a network-centric strategy. More needs to be done. The Administration and Congress should:

  • Develop a more ambitious strategy for invest­ment in border infrastructure;
  • Integrate federal border, immigration, and visa operations into a single operational agency;
  • Invest in critical technological programs like the Coast Guard's Deepwater program, US-VISIT, and an integrated civilian air-ground intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, and law enforcement capability for the DHS;
  • Undertake legislation and policy reforms that promote state, local, and volunteer cooperation and empower federal officials to enforce immi­gration laws aggressively; and
  • Develop the analytical capabilities to inform resource decisions and public policy choices.

Conclusion. Simply strengthening the current "layered systems" approach to U.S. border security will not secure the border. Congress and the Administration need to make key investments in infrastructure, organization, technology, and resources and then support these efforts with appropriate legislation and policy reform.

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fel­low for National Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for Interna­tional Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Janice Kephart, former counselor to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the 9/11 Commission), contributed to this report.

About the Author

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