Neighborhood Watch

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Securing the border

By Joey Gomez

In terms of boots on the ground along the border, the Rio Grande Valley has reached the highest level of manpower in its history.

CBP has more than doubled the size of the U.S. Border Patrol since 2004, keeping staffing levels along the border at an all-time high.  In March, more than 80,000 undocumented immigrants had been apprehended since October 2013 in the RGV Sector, according to Border Patrol spokesman Daniel Tirado.

The 80,000 undocumented immigrants also included OTMs “other than Mexicans,” Tirado said.

Border Patrol Safe Boat in South Texas McAllen, RGV

South Texas, Border Patrol Agents, McAllen Horse Patrol Unit

Success, however, is fleeting and hard to define.  Should it be based on those apprehensions that CBP is quick to tout?  Should it begin with comprehensive immigration reform?

Lawmakers in Washington say they have just begun looking at performance measures to include in next year’s budget in order measure what agencies are doing.

“First of all, keep in mind that we now have the lowest number of people coming across in the last 20 years.  In turn, we have to make sure we have what we call ‘operational control’ of the border,” said U.S. Rep Henry Cuellar, who currently sits on the powerful House Committee on Appropriations and Subcommittees for Homeland Security and State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs in Congress.

“As we’re speaking, I’m actually looking at some performance measures that I want to put on the budget so we can measure what the agencies are doing.  Certainly, controlling the border and stopping people, and the measure that we want to use, is something that we are working on,” Cuellar said.  “CBP will tell you that they have certain measures that will help us better control the work we are doing on the border.

South Texas Border Patrol Agent Monitors Border Activity with RV

Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS)

“It’s a coincidence that you’re bringing this up, but this is actually my big project that I am doing in Appropriations this year,” Cuellar said.

“Basically, in this last budget we included about 2,000 new CBP officers, those men and women in blue, which will be good, because that will help us man our bridges and provide security, and at the same time move trade and traffic a lot faster at our Ports of Entry,” Cuellar said.

“Also, in this last appropriations bill that we passed, I added language to develop joint testing and training of unmanned aircraft systems between DHS and FAA,” Cuellar said. “This will lead to more border resources for better training and equipping pilots to operate those unmanned aircraft for the purpose of border security.  I’m talking about those UAV.  I added that language.  We’ll send you talking points about that.”

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson visited the Rio Grande Valley in January to tour border operations, as well as to receive briefings on the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) efforts to secure the border while facilitating lawful travel and trade and meet with state and local law enforcement officials.

“Under this Administration, DHS has devoted unprecedented resources to securing the border, here in McAllen, across Texas, and across the entirety of the Southwest border – while also supporting the travel and trade that are vital to our economy,” Johnson said in a statement.  “I intend to continually evaluate the border security situation in South Texas to ensure we have adequate resources to meet the important and unique challenges this region faces.

“We will continue to build on the significant progress made over the last five years on the important priority of border security across our southwest border,” Johnson said.  “As we work with Congress, border communities, and other partners, we work to achieve commonsense reform that is strong on security, supports our economy, and is in line with our nation’s values.”

“The Rio Grande Valley sector has reached its highest level of manpower in history,” Tirado said.  “We have over 3,000 agents assigned to the sector.  We did receive technology and assets from other sectors, and we are having that evaluation of the aerostat systems.  These are some of the things we have had coming to our sector because of the volume of people.”

Last year, the U.S. Senate voted 69-29 in favor of the so-called “border surge” proposal, an amendment to the Gang Of Eight’s comprehensive immigration reform bill to move billions of dollars into border surveillance, fencing, and enforcement.

The legislation, authored by Republican Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and John Hoeven of North Dakota, cleared the way for the Senate’s passage of the overall comprehensive immigration reform, locking up support from 14 GOP Senators.

In exchange, the compromise attempted to allay Republican concerns about border security, calling for a state of “persistent surveillance” along the border with “continuous and integrated manned or unmanned, monitoring, sensing or surveillance of 100 percent of southern border mileage or the immediate vicinity of the southern border.”

To accomplish that, the legislation attempted to pour an unprecedented more than $46 billion into border security, including:

  • $30 billion to double the number of Border Patrol agents along the Southern border, from about 18,000 today to 38,405.  That’s about 19 agents per mile.
  • $8 billion to complete and reinforce a 700-mile pedestrian border fence.
  • $4.5 billion in high-tech surveillance technology, including 24/7 use of unmanned aerial drones; six “Vader” (Vehicle Dismount and Exploitation Radar) radar systems developed for the military in Afghanistan; 40 new helicopters; 30 marine vessels; 4,595 unattended ground sensors with seismic, imaging, and infrared capability; 86 towers; and hundreds of cameras, night-vision goggles, fiber-optic inspection scopes, and mobile surveillance systems.
  • $1 billion to expand the E-Verify System, a computerized data network that allows employers to check the immigration status of potential workers, and build a “photo tool” that allows a company to match applicants to photos in the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services Database.  (Just 7 percent of employers are currently using the E-Verify system, but the bill calls for the system to be rolled out to all employers within four years.)
  • Development of “fraud-resistant, tamper-resistant, wear-resistant, and identity theft-resistant social security cards.”

 

Immigration-related bills currently introduced in the U.S. House include H.R. 15. With 199 cosponsors as of April, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” has progressed the farthest.

H.R. 15 contains the “best of the Senate bill,” according to a previous statement by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, but without the Corker-Hoeven “border surge” amendment, and with the McCaul-Jackson Lee border bill (H.R. 1417) in its place.

In place of the controversial Corker-Hoeven amendment, which was criticized for indiscriminately “militarizing” the border, the bill incorporates the bipartisan House border security bill, H.R. 1417, or McCaul bill, which includes the following:

  • Regular reports by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on surveillance of and control over the borders, including efforts to assess control over illegal entries, illegal drugs, terrorist threats, and prevention of infringements of human rights.  Assessments will be performed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) of DHS’s methodology and effectiveness.
  • A strategy to gain situational awareness and operational control over the southwestern border within five years, starting with high-traffic areas.  The strategy must include assessments of threats and metrics to measure effectiveness.
  • Submission of a plan to implement a biometric entry-exit system at ports of entry immediately, or if this is determined to not be feasible, an alternate plan that will provide the same level of security.