Some years back, there was a nation with a real thing for secure borders. They didn’t just want to control who came in, but also who left the country. Walls, fences, barbed wire, land mines, attack dogs, armed guards, you get the idea. After the fall of the Soviet Union, this nation continued the same policy of border control. Despite this, the nation has been dragged into a bitter and bloody conflict over one of its provinces, from which terrorists have killed hundreds of innocents by coming across borders guarded by armed forces. Russia stands as a clear warning, against the fairy tale that a long border can be completely secure. The best option is to functionally control the border against a specific threat. When we discuss the matter of the border between the United States and Mexico, we have to step back from the angry shouting, and sort out what we need to do most, determine what options can best address that, and provide for the cost in money and resources which must be provided.
The border between the United States and Mexico is two thousand miles long, and includes many places which are very difficult to patrol and monitor. This, by the way, is why President Bush made such an emphasis on the “virtual” fence – those angry ranters who will accept nothing but a brick wall along the lines of the one we disliked in Berlin, don’t have a very good idea of the conditions in some places, the habit of some people to tunnel under the border, or the fact that any wall/fence can be and has been climbed over, cut through or dug under – to control a border you need an effective way to see more than one dimension, and to direct patrols for quick interceptions. Bush has spent more resources on physical fences and supported more work on interception resources than any President in history, but he knows – he’s lived down here, you know – that we need to use more effective methods, especially tools which the most dangerous border crossers, like the gangs and the smugglers, do not have and cannot easily evade. A predator with IR scanning is a better answer to this problem than even a mile of brick wall.
The best way to treat this problem is a layered approach. First, we need to see people before they get to the border, which reinforces the value of airborne surveillance. That same layer would track people from detection to either deterrence or interception, and the process for that stage is already in development. The second layer would be to watch for new arrivals in border towns; people just across will want food and rest, and there are processes in development to see who arrives where they are not expected. And third, we need to pursue intruders who wish to move inland. This is probably the weakest link in the present system; it puts everything in the front sections, so that someone who can get through the first couple days often finds it easier as they move farther in. Unfortunately, this is exactly the way that sleeper cells for a terrorist group would also move in, to reach target locations using the convenient and largely unsecured highway network. A national system of freeway monitors is being developed however, using extant systems like TRANSTAR in combination with high-speed element profile programs at places like the NRO, to find vehicles which are out of place; things like unusual weight, out-of-state/country plates, or unusual levels of occupancy will trigger closer inspection, possibly a stop by a police officer. This is already how border states catch trucks with human cargo, and how we hope to intercept more dangerous traffic. People tend to drive in the manner where they learned, and so non-American drivers tend to stand out in their actions, compared to natives.
In conclusion for this article, the issue of Border Control is probably the most worrisome in the whole matter. However, the actions of the DHS in the past 4+ years have been largely productive, but also largely invisible. If Congress is willing to work with the White House, control of the borders can continue to be improved, especially by creating a consistent policy with adequate resources.
Next - Pt 3, Alien Entry Protocols