August 15, 2013 | Vol. 117 -- No. 17

Use existing resources for border security

In our opinion

With most of our troops being withdrawn from service in Afghanistan by 2014, there may be an area where some of them could be used to address a pressing issue at home.

That issue is immigration, specifically border security and mainly along our border with Mexico. Republicans in Congress have made increased border security a condition for passing an immigration reform bill that would change the status of over 11 million immigrants here illegally.

Currently, border security staffing is at an all-time high and technology used is at an unprecedented level. That’s according to written testimony in February by U.S. Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher and Office of Field Operations Acting Assistant Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.

There are over 21,000 border agents, up from 10,000 in 2004. Along the Southwest border agents have increased from 9,100 in 2001 to 18,500 in 2013. There are more customs and immigration inspectors and other front line employees nationwide.

Customs and Border Protection spent $2.4 billion between 2006-2009 building 670 miles of single-line fencing along the Mexico border to keep pedestrians and vehicles from crossing into the U.S. The CBP also uses technology ranging from unmanned surveillance drones and mobile surveillance units, to thermal imaging systems, radiation detection systems and much more. They have expanded security measures beyond our borders in cooperation with foreign governments.

These measures have met with success. Over 365,000 apprehensions occurred in 2012, with 7,900 people wanted for serious crimes arrested and 145,000 inadmissible aliens turned away. The CBP seized 71 percent more currency, 39 percent more drugs, and 189 percent more weapons along the Southwest border in 2012 as compared to 2006-2008.

The result is reduced crime and increased population growth, trade and tourism revenue for cities along the border. In February, Forbes ranked Tucson, Ariz. the number one city to buy a home, and El Paso, Texas was named the second safest city in America in 2009, safest in 2010 and 2011 – a contrast to its cross border neighbor Cuidad Juarez, often considered the most dangerous city in the Western Hemisphere.

Still, there are problems. Border agents using experimental aerial radar known as Vader, Vehicle Dismount and Exploitation Radar, were able to detain 1,874 people spotted in the Sonora Desert between Oct. 1, 2012 and Jan. 17, 2013.

Unfortunately the radar spotted 1,962 people in the same area who got away, disappearing into the U.S.

The CPB sees Vader as another means for detection. But while detection is good, the Sonora Desert example shows swift interdiction is needed.

Congress’ desire for more fencing, drones, guards and other measures comes with a large price tag. A desired 700-mile, double-line fence alone could cost between $400,000 to $15 million per mile, according to a General Accounting Office 2009 analysis, with $3.9 million per mile the average.

Less expensive fencing ran $1 million per mile. With many social issues before us, it’s difficult to justify this type of expenditure when there are other, less expensive ways of addressing the problem.

One of those could be redeploying some of the service personnel returning from Afghanistan to duty along the Southwest border. They could be regular army, or National Guard.

These personnel are already well trained in tracking down people. They are also already part of the budget. They could be used to augment existing border security personnel.

True, it would be unprecedented to deploy U.S. troops on home soil in such a fashion. The Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 prohibits use of U.S. troops for the purpose of executing U.S. laws at home “except on such cases and under such circumstances as such employment of said force may be expressly authorized by the Constitution or by any act of Congress.”

How long that deployment would last would also be an issue. Many Americans don’t like the idea of armed troops patrolling streets and fields – after all we’re not a third-world country.

But before Congress goes tossing out much needed money to fence contractors and technology companies, we would hope they would consider other interdiction resources already on hand.

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