|Sierra Blanca Checkpoint/Tom Barry|
The Border Patrol’s 1994 "Prevention Through Deterrence" strategy -- the agency's first strategy statement in its 70-year history -- was not wholly an agency formulation.
In January 1989 the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an immigration restrictionist policy institute, published a white paper titled “Ten Steps to Securing America’s Borders.” The FAIR paper advocated vastly increased border control infrastructure, including barriers and fences, enhanced electronic surveillance and highway checkpoints, as well as an expanded Border Patrol presence directly on the line.
Most influential, though, in influencing Border Patrol strategy was the January 1993 release of a Sandia Laboratories report that the White House’s Office on National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) had commissioned in 1991.
The ONDCP report, titled “Systematic Analysis of the Southwest Border,” recommended the urgent adoption of a “prevention strategy” for border control and called for major increases in funding for multiple-layered fences, highway checkpoints and intense border surveillance. (1)
While the FAIR’s recommendations for a fortified border was the product of its concerns about rising illegal immigration flows, the Sandia/ONDCP report was the product of ONDCP’s deepening concern about the cocaine smuggling corridor through Mexico, which had opened up as a result of increasingly effective interdiction efforts in the Caribbean Basin region, including in Florida.
Also noteworthy was the undifferentiated character of the prevention strategies outlined in the early 1990s in both the Border Patrol strategy statement and the two outside reports. Little distinction is made, or prioritization given, between the two illegal border flows, immigrants and drugs. The strategies to stop immigrants and drugs were the same.
Today’s border security strategy is similarly undifferentiated with respect to terrorists, criminal aliens, drug smugglers, or immigrants crossing to seek work and reunite with their families – even though the policies that respond to these different pressures on the border must be different. In the name of securing the homeland and deterring immigrants, the federal government has merged the criminal justice and immigration regulation systems with tragic results, as illegal immigrants are routinely shackled and imprisoned before being deported. (2)
DHS conveniently – but hardly strategically – lumps together illegal immigrants, violent immigrant criminals, and drug lords into its category of “dangerous people.” Less convenient but more constructive would be homeland security programs that focus on real security threats, drug programs that aim to disassociate criminality and drug use, criminal policies that target those who endanger public safety, and immigration policies that just, pragmatic and enforceable.
In retrospect, it also worth noting that in those less politically charged times the Border Patrol referred to immigration flows less as threat and more as a product of social and economic forces. As its 1994 strategy statement observed:
“The forces that cause legal and migration are powerful. Without positive, long-term changes in the root causes that prompt illegal migration such as improvements in the Mexican economy, NAFTA, effective employer sanctions restrictions, or closing the loopholes that allow illegal aliens to gain equities in the United States, the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors will remain strong.”
Whether framed as “border control” or as “border security,” U.S. border policy cannot stand alone.
If other U.S. policies are creating the constant pressure on the integrity of our borders, then those policies should be reconsidered.
Border policy would, for example, would likely be effective and more highly regarded if U.S. policymakers were more mindful of the adverse consequences of other nonborder policies. U.S. trade, drug, and foreign policies contribute to crossborder smuggling and to emigration pressures in the major sending countries of Central America and Mexico.
(Third of a three-part series on strategic formation of the Border Patrol.)
1 U.S. General Accounting Office, “Border Control: Revised Strategy is Showing Some Positive Results,” December 12, 1994.
2 Tom Barry, Immigrant Crackdown Joins Failed Wars on Drug and Crime, International Policy Report, Center for International Policy, April 2009, at:http://www.globalexchange.org/countries/americas/mexico/immigrantcrackdowntombarry.pdf