Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Strategy for Border Control

Early Border Patrol/Arizona Historical Society

(Second part of "Time to Rein in the Border Security Bandwagon" policy report. First installment at:

They say it couldn’t be done.  

In its 1994 Strategy Statement, the Border Patrol acknowledged what could not be stated today without igniting a firestorm of criticism. As part of the strategic planning process, the Border Patrol said it “accepted that absolute sealing of the border is unrealistic.”

While Border Patrol officers and most border observers still share this assessment made more than fifteen years ago, the new wave of border security hardliners, found mostly in Texas and Arizona, dismiss this assessment as typical liberal wish-wash.

Not totally sealed or secured, the border, however, “can be brought under control,” said the Border Patrol in 1994. It would do this, as the strategy statement outlined and subsequently operational priorities revealed, mainly by focusing on the main corridors of illegal border crossing.  Not only did the Border Patrol for the first time commit itself to defined “geographical priorities” along the southwestern border, it also began coupling this with a new strategy of border control that it called “prevention through deterrence.”

The Border Patrol has long attracted former soldiers and military officers. Yet, over the past couple of decades, with its rapid expansion, the Border Patrol has increasingly taken on a distinct military cast with its internal language, chain of command, insularity, and predilection for measuring progress by such body-count indicators as drug seizures and apprehensions.

“Prevention Through Deterrence,” the strategic philosophy of border control adopted in 1994, remains the Border Patrol’s operational philosophy. It didn’t come full blown from within the ranks of the Border Patrol, but was the product of consultancies with the Department of Defense’s Center for Low Intensity Conflict and with Sandia Laboratories, the Department of Energy’s privately managed nuclear weapons development center in Albuquerque.

Simply stated, the new strategy was to prevent the large-scale entry of illegal border crossers through the main entry corridors by concentrated force that not only would arrest most of those who crossed illegally but would also deter crossing attempts by force presence and barriers at the border.  Prior to the implementation of the deterrence strategy, the Border Patrol never had much of a border control strategy.  Since its creation in 1924 the Border Patrol functioned mostly to give the impression of some semblance of border control. 

The border was too vast to effectively control, but the presence of Border Patrol agents did send the message that the U.S. didn’t have open border as it once did. Not only was the border long – stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific – most of it was extremely remote.  

To reach the border in many regions meant taking rough dirt roads, and once at the border there were only rarely roads that paralleled the border. This led to a de facto Border Patrol strategy of patrolling areas that were far removed from the border but must be crossed by illegal crossers if they were successfully to make their way into the country’s interior.  In effect, then, the focus was on catching not stopping entrants.

While the official provenance of “Prevention Through Deterrence” was a strategic planning process initiated by the Border Patrol, the thrust of this strategy emerged at the grassroots from concerns of border residents.  Given the current outcry for increased border security led largely by anti-immigrant forces and Republican politicians, one might assume that these were also the forces that pressured the Border Patrol to overhaul and ramp up their border enforcement operations in the mid-1990s.

At this time, it’s certainly was the case that immigration restrictionists and assorted anti-immigrant grassroots groups, mainly in California, were raising the alarm about the “invasion of illegals” in the early 1990s. Illegal immigration flows from Mexico and other Latin American countries were rising to unprecedented levels – giving rise to an anti-immigrant backlash in California mostly among sectors that saw the white-majority threatened and deepening the conviction among restrictionists that the 1986 immigration reform functioned mostly as a platform for more illegal immigration.  

Grassroots backlash and restrictionist policy came together in the form of Proposition 187, the successful 1994 California referendum to deny public services to unauthorized immigrants, which had key support from the restrictionist Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) but was quickly judged unconstitutional. 

(Next: in series: "Prevention Through Deterrence"Doctrine Emerges.)

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