November 2005, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff
announced the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), the department's
five-year plan to secure America's borders. The SBI seeks to
achieve this goal by increasing border patrols, technology, and
infrastructure at the borders; expanding detention and removal
capabilities to end "catch and release" practices; and
enhancing interior enforcement efforts, including worksite
The SBI provides a strong starting point for border security
strategy, but securing America's borders will also require
strengthening its coastal borders. A successful land border
enforcement strategy will cause those seeking to enter the United
States illegally to turn to other routes of entry, including U.S.
coasts. Thus, Coast Guard modernization should be a crucial
component of the SBI.
A Good Start. Under the SBI, Secretary Chertoff
has outlined a plan to gain operational control of the northern and
southern borders within the next five years. It seeks to strengthen
all aspects of border security, including human resources,
technology, enforcement programs, and infrastructure. Congress
has appropriated funds for hiring 1,000 additional Border Patrol
agents and has provided an increase of $3.9 billion in the 2006
budget for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to add 250
criminal investigators, 400 ICE agents, and 100 deportation
The SBI offers a comprehensive set of requirements for new
technologies, policies, and procedures to provide an
integrated system of capabilities. The SBI's goal is to provide a
"system of systems" that gets the right information to the right
person at the right time to do the right thing for effective
Looking at More Than Just Land Borders. The SBI
seeks to strengthen enforcement and security along America's
northern and southern borders. The SBI components focus mostly on
land border assets and capabilities. Once the SBI is fully in
place, it will be significantly more difficult to cross the land
Just as a free market quickly adapts to new conditions, those
involved in human smuggling, drug trafficking, and other criminal
activities will explore other vulnerabilities and find new ways to
enter the United States illegally. The sea coasts provide a
wealth of opportunities for such exploitation. As land borders
become increasingly impenetrable, criminals will shift to smuggling
humans and goods by sea, using boats and shipping containers.
This would undermine the integrity of America's borders just
as much as smuggling by land does.
The SBI cannot afford to focus resources only on the land borders.
It must also include the strengthening of maritime and air
approaches to U.S. territory. Allocating resources to
land-only solutions will lead to a failed border security strategy.
A more comprehensive border security strategy should include a
major role for the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Need for Coast Guard Modernization. Since
9/11, demands on the U.S. Coast Guard's homeland security
responsibilities have expanded greatly. The service still fulfills
its traditional missions of search and rescue, ensuring the
safety and security of commercial shipping, safeguarding U.S.
fisheries, and interdicting smuggling of drugs, arms, and humans.
Today, the Coast Guard also plays a prominent role in every aspect
of maritime security, from inspecting ports overseas and
overseeing the security at U.S. ports to checking ships and
cargo and stopping illegal immigration.
With its increased responsibilities since 9/11, the Coast Guard is
wearing out its equipment faster than ever. Deepwater, the Coast
Guard modernization program funded by Congress before 9/11,
envisioned retiring the service's aging inventory of ships and
planes over 30 years, gradually replacing them with an
integrated set of assets including new vessels and sophisticated
communications, computers, and sensors.
As the SBI makes progress on its five-year timeline of
securing U.S. land borders, the sea border will certainly become an
attractive route for smugglers. Congress's 30-year timeline
for Coast Guard modernization simply will not meet post-9/11 needs
or support the SBI's goals.
Speeding up Deepwater would make America safer by introducing more
capable assets sooner. A faster modernization would also save as
much as $3 billion. Buying units at a faster rate would reduce
costs per unit, and more quickly retiring older equipment that is
more expensive to operate and maintain would save money as
The Coast Guard has also developed the Command 2010 plan to
transform command and control to increase maritime domain
awareness. The specifics of the program include deploying sensors
to track cooperative and non-cooperative vessels; fusing vessel
tracks with historical data, law enforcement information, and
intelligence through the Common Operational Picture; and increasing
interoperability among all echelons of command. The Coast Guard's
Command 2010 should interface with the SBI to provide a system
of systems that provides land and sea domain awareness.
What Congress Should Do. Congressional
support for Coast Guard modernization plans is crucial to
homeland security. Specifically, Congress should:
Approve an annual appropriation of $1.6 billion for Deepwater
funding to accelerate modernization and
Appropriate funds for the Coast Guard to implement Command
Conclusion. Securing the borders will require more
than an investment in land border assets. It will also require
strengthening sea and air borders. The Coast Guard plays a central
role in immigration control along the U.S. coasts. Thus, its
modernization program should be a priority component of the
Secure Border Initiative, and Congress should fully fund Coast
Guard modernization programs to enhance homeland security.
James Jay Carafano,
Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National
Security and 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