September 6, 2006 | Backgrounder on Department of Homeland Security
Congress and the Administration should pursue a strategy that quickly enhances resources at the border within two years. The Senate and House plans to add border guards and build fences are inadequate.
Instead, a comprehensive strategy should examine other options such as a mix of federal, state, and local assets; volunteers operating under State Defense Forces; the National Guard; and private contractors. In particular, private contractors could play an important role in recruiting and training Border Patrol agents and providing personnel to secure the border. To contract out certain border security functions successfully, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) should apply the lessons learned from other large-scale contracting projects. All in all, a strategy that examines and uses these multiple means would strengthen the integrity and security of America's borders.
The Need to Revise Border Strategy
A strategy to gain operational control of the U.S. southern border should focus on building up the means to limit illegal crossings between the land points of entry, interdict smuggling by air and sea, discourage unlawful presence inside the country, and provide adequate legal alternatives to support south- north migration flows. To be effective, the strategy should be implemented within two years and remain in place for at least five years.
The Strategy Problem. Strategy consists of the ways, means, and ends employed to achieve national objectives. Strategies are dynamic, competitive processes of action and counteraction between thinking adversaries. The current strategy and the proposed approaches to border security in the House and Senate measures are static and deeply flawed.
U.S. border strategy represents a "graduated response," which involves gradually adding resources until the problem is solved. This approach is usually adopted when it is unclear how much effort is required to achieve success. Such strategies fail against a determined competitor because the threat is allowed the time and resourcefulness to adapt. For example, as illegal border crossings increased over the past decade, manpower was doubled and spending tripled, yet the number of people unlawfully present in the United States skyrocketed.
Additionally, many historical examples demonstrate that such strategies usually fail against a determined, resourceful competitor that possesses adequate resources. In Vietnam, the United States employed a flawed strategy referred to as "graduated pressure." The guiding idea was that incrementally increasing levels of military force would ultimately push the North Vietnamese to some abstract breaking point, achieving victory for the United States and South Vietnam. This strategy relied on faulty assumptions about the enemy's psychology and, most of all, offered no real solutions about how to defeat the Communists other than essentially throwing more troops at the problem.
U.S. border operations are likely to fail regardless of what security (e.g., manpower and fences) is added because in the months and years required to implement new means of security, the hundreds of thousands seeking to enter the United States will find ways to circumvent these measures. Indeed, the Senate and House bills, both of which mandate specific levels of hiring for border agents and mandatory construction of miles of border fences, may actually exacerbate the problem. Agents and fences may well consume the lion's share of the federal budget for border security, leaving inadequate resources for other critical tasks such as interior enforcement, detention, and removal.
The Right Strategy. Rather than seeking to determine how much has to be done to secure the border, an alternative and more effective strategy would focus on what can be done to change the predominance of illegal south-north migration from illegal to legal. It would seek to disrupt the current illegal migration patterns quickly and dramatically and to encourage legal migration as an alternative. This strategy should have three components: dominant and persistent enforcement, rapid and robust deployment, and legal alternatives for south-north migration.
Dominant and Persistent Enforcement. This can be achieved only by obtaining the right mix of land, air, sea, and interior enforcement assets and policies.
Relying on a buildup of DHS assets will take too long. Heavy reliance on military assets is costly and inefficient and detracts from the military's ability to perform its other essential missions. An alternative to rapidly building up border assets is to employ a combination of resources.
In the long term, this solution should prove both effective and cost-efficient. Once migration patterns shifted from illegal to legal means, less robust security would be required on the border. Since the federal government would have avoided investing in security measures with high fixed costs (i.e., an excessively large federal workforce for border security), it could quickly lower costs by reducing contractor support.
Legal Alternatives for Migration. Enhancing border security makes no sense without establishing alternative legal patterns of migration that bolster the U.S. economy, respect the rule of law, and strengthen American civil society. A strategy of "border first" should not be "border only." "Border only" strategies increase the incentive for smugglers to find alternative ways to circumvent security.
Legal alternatives that do not encourage illegal entry and unlawful presence are essential to border security. Such measures should include appropriate security, criminal, and health screening measures before individuals enter the United States and should meet the legitimate needs of U.S. employers in a timely manner.
Adding More Border Patrol Agents
Recommendations to increase the number of Border Patrol agents as a major component of border security raise several issues:
Effectiveness. In spite of vast policy differences in their approaches to immigration reform, the House and Senate immigration reform bills share a common strategy of increasing border security by hiring thousands of Border Patrol agents in the coming years.
Regrettably, this proposed dramatic expansion of the Border Patrol may not have the desired effect. A review of the social science literature on the effect of border enforcement on illegal immigration shows mixed results. Some studies find no effect, while others indicate a positive or negative relationship between border enforcement and illegal immigration.
Additionally, the literature indicates that increased border enforcement appears to slow the flow of illegal immigrants leaving the United States. Thus, immigration law enforcement that is overly reliant on border enforcement may actually increase the number of illegal aliens in the United States.
Three factors significantly undermine the effectiveness of the Border Patrol:
Deterring crime is likely to depend more on deploying officers when and where serious crime is concentrated and most likely to occur. Thus, providing actual sanctions for illegally crossing the border and giving the Border Patrol a clear and consistent mission may be more important to securing the border than dramatically expanding the number of agents on the border would be.
Operational Challenges. The difficulties with quickly increasing the number of Border Patrol agents by 50 percent are numerous. Aside from its questionable effectiveness, such a policy will need to overcome many operational hurdles to meet its goal.
Attrition. With an attrition rate of about 20 percent at the training academy, the CBP will need nearly 8,000 trainees to graduate the required 6,000 new agents. Even before arriving at the academy, applicants go through a long, circuitous process that includes a medical exam, a drug test, a thorough background investigation, and a physical fitness test with standards comparable to those of the military. For every 30 applications received, one applicant makes it through the entire screening process and completes training. This suggests that meeting the President's goal would require about 180,000 applications in the next two years.
Finding Qualified Applicants. Working as a Border Patrol agent is difficult and dangerous. Agents work outdoors in rough terrain and in extraordinarily unpleasant weather, mostly along the southwestern border. For many of them, this will mean moving to small border towns far away from their families.
Furthermore, CBP recruits are asked to endure hardships unique to the agency for lower pay than most other federal law enforcement organizations offer. While the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) starts new agents at either the GS-7 or GS-9 pay grade and the Federal Bureau of Investigation starts new agents at the GS-10 pay grade, CBP agents start at either the GS-5 or GS-7 pay grade, depending on their qualifications. Yet CBP requirements are just as demanding as those for other agencies and in some cases even more so since all new Border Patrol agents must pass Spanish classes at the academy. Attracting a surfeit of qualified candidates will require increasing the pay and benefits.
Recruiting Efforts. Recruiting and screening 180,000 new applicants will require a massive effort by the CBP's recruiting apparatus, especially since the agency is competing with other federal law enforcement organizations that offer better pay and are perceived by the public to offer greater prestige and excitement.
Therefore, CBP recruiting efforts will need to focus not only on getting the numbers, but also on improving the agency's public image and prestige. One way to do this would be to launch an advertising campaign emphasizing that the CBP is a frontline, down-in-the-trenches agency that is fighting on perhaps the most important front in this new type of war. To improve public perception, the CBP will need to increase its current team of 50 dedicated recruiters nationwide.
Avoiding a Bottleneck. Once the CBP puts practices in place to accomplish the recruiting goal and screen enough qualified candidates, it will need to avoid a bottleneck at the academy. The academy will need not only additional classrooms and living space, but also more firing ranges, physical fitness facilities, and training areas for simulations and exercises, along with additional staff and instructors. The Administration's proposal would increase the training rate from 411 new agents per year to 3,000 per year over the next two years. The training academy in Artesia, New Mexico, does not have the capacity to handle this increase.
Cost. If Congress continues to insist on adding thousands of new Border Patrol agents, it should consider policies that will make the hiring, training, and deploying of new agents more cost-effective. In general, policymakers should consider using private contractors to recruit Border Patrol agents and to deploy security personnel on the border.
Border Patrol Recruiting. The hiring of thousands of new Border Patrol agents means that the agency will have to expand and improve its recruiting process. The Border Patrol should model its recruiting efforts on the U.S. armed services, which must attract tens of thousands of new recruits each year. Contracting with private recruiting firms also might help the Border Patrol to reach its hiring goals. Specifically, the Border Patrol should:
Private Security Firms. The Border Patrol should consider hiring private security firms to provide well-trained security personnel to help guard the nation's borders. For fiscal year 2006, the Department of Homeland Security estimates that the cost to hire, train, and equip one Border Patrol Agent is about $180,000, with an additional $9,000 in tuition charged by the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Thus, the total cost of a new Border Patrol agent is around $189,000. Privatizing this process should lower costs.
Private firms may offer short-term and long-term solutions that are more cost-effective. In general, the social science literature on the privatization of government services from waste management to corrections indicates that the private sector can deliver quality services more cheaply than the public sector can. Some may say that the private sector cannot be trusted with securing the border. Yet the private sector is trusted to provide criminal justice services. For example, private contractors have a long history of managing adult and juvenile correctional facilities. A review of the literature on prison privatization by the Reason Public Policy Institute suggests that private prisons cost 11 percent to 14 percent less than state-run prisons.
In the short term, private security firms can fill in the gaps on the border while the Border Patrol works to meet the hiring thresholds mandated by Congress. If private security firms can deploy border agents in a more cost-effective manner, then Congress should consider using private border agents as a long-term solution to enhancing border security.
Training Capacity. Congress should consider providing the Border Patrol with additional means to train new agents. Adding thousands of new agents in a few years as mandated by both the House and Senate bills may not be feasible without expanding the training capacity of the Border Patrol Academy and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. Allowing the Border Patrol to develop partnerships with law enforcement academies operated by private firms could lower training costs significantly. The CBP could also meet the Border Patrol increase by:
State and Local Participation Under Section 287(g)
Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) could serve as basis for state and local law enforcement to cooperate effectively with federal authorities in rapidly building up capacity to gain operational control of U.S. borders. This section gives local and state governments the authority to investigate, detain, arrest, and deport illegal immigrants on civil and criminal grounds under federal immigration law.
State and Local Engagement. Section 287(g) was added to the INA in 1996 to enhance Immigration and Customs Enforcement. In many cases, local authorities along the border are often the first to witness immigration violations and in the best position to stop illegal immigrants who are trying to enter the United States. Under Section 287(g), states could secure adequate training for state and local law enforcement officers, who would then be authorized to deal with immigration offenders and enforce the INA. The month-long training focuses on immigration law, civil rights, racial profiling issues, and identifying immigration violators.
Using Section 287(g) would strengthen cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies while still adhering to constitutional principles of federalism, protecting the rights of U.S. citizens, and combating threats to the nation. Currently, only Alabama, Florida, Arizona, North Carolina, and California have established Section 287(g) programs, but none of them are used for border control.
Integrating with Federal Operations. The best way to integrate Section 287(g) programs into border control is to expand the DHS Border Enforcement Security Task Forces (BEST), which act as fusion centers for federal, state, tribal, local law enforcement, and intelligence entities in identifying and combating emerging and existing threats. Other effective models of this approach include Project Seahawk at the port of Charleston, the Joint Interagency Task Force in Key West, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces, and Canada's Integrated Border Enforcement teams. The DHS should rapidly expand the task force concept to organize operations and use Section 287(g) as the basis for integrating state and local law enforcement.
Congress should authorize states and cities to use homeland security grants for participation in Section 287(g) programs. It should also require the DHS to:
Volunteer Groups and State Defense Forces
The willingness of Americans to volunteer reflects a healthy civil society. Volunteer groups could perform many tasks that would enhance the nation's capacity to control its borders. As with all volunteer associations that interface with government agencies, there are three minimum requirements to making operations safe and effective: accreditation, standards, and practical employment concepts that are consistent with volunteer service.