Border Security Consensus Means Less Accountability
Normandy-type barrier on New Mexico-Chihuahua border at Antelope Wells / Photo by Tom Barry
reserve of support for operations and policies that have anything to do with
border security runs across the political spectrum. Whether at the federal,
state, or local level, there exists near unanimous bipartisan support for
military and national security arenas, no comparable level of Republican and
Democrat advocacy for border security can be found. This consensus, which
extends to liberal critics of U.S. immigration policy, helps explain why the
Border Patrol has not been held accountable for its wasteful programs
(particularly its high-tech ones), failure to undertake cost-benefit
evaluations, sloppy strategic thinking, and superficial risk-management
rule, Republicans are more hawkish about border security than Democrats.
Generally, support from the political right for border security is driven by a
combination of anti-immigrant backlash, alarm of alleged spillover violence,
xenophobic convictions, and opportunities to bash the failings of the federal government.
Standing out for their critique of border security framework and the border
security buildup are economic libertarians and free-market ideologues.
centrist and left-center nongovernmental advocacy organizations concerned with
immigration and Latin America policies, there has also been widespread
acceptance of the new homeland security and border security frameworks for
border policy and operations. Some advocacy and policy organizations may find
the security framework distasteful but they accept it as a post-9/11 political
among Washington, DC research and policy institutes, border policy reform
initiatives aim to make border security operations smarter, more humane, and
less wasteful without questioning the concept that the border needs to be
In some respects it is a matter of pragmatism over principles, but to
a large degree there is unquestioning acceptance of the security framework for
border policy. As a result, DHS and CBP – and to a lesser degree, state-based
border security initiatives – can count on a far-ranging continuum of support
for border security.
Left of center, border security is widely regarded as a
politically necessary precondition for successful immigration reform. Important
exceptions to the acceptance of border security policy within the NGO community
are drug policy reform, environmental, and human rights organizations.
Congress, conservatives, moderates, liberals, and progressives generally have
shared an enthusiastic support for border security policy and funding.
Especially in the borderlands, there is fervent bipartisan support for border
security funding – based less on any demonstrable improvement in public safety
and more on the indirect economic benefits from the infusion of border-related
funding, whether it be for more drug task forces, injections of federal funding
in local law enforcement budgets, or the array of DHS construction projections.
The $100 billion plus in border security funding since 9/11 has led to the rise
of what some observers have called a border industrial complex.
upshot of these political and economic factors is that, while there may be
great skepticism about the focus and cost effectiveness of many border security
programs, particularly the mainly high-tech projects, there is little political
will to hold the Border Patrol accountable.
time for true accountability for the Border Patrol and the upsurge of border
security programs may soon be coming. For one thing, in times of deepening
deficits and reduced income, federal funding is increasingly a zero-sum game.
Billions for border security translates into billions less for other programs
dear to politicians and constituents.
the resonance of anti-immigrant political rhetoric has diminished, in part
because of the decrease in immigration and in part because of the adverse
political consequences for politicians who have embraced anti-immigrant
rhetoric and statutes. This erosion of the anti-immigrant political base has
resulted in decreased resonance for border security alarmism.
about drug consumption and drug-related violence have also driven the border
security buildup. No doubt there is
still widespread public concern about illegal drug consumption. At the same
time, however, support for legalized marijuana is steadily expanding.
while drug-related violence continues in Mexico, the alarmism about spillover
violence is increasingly dismissed because of the lack of substantiation about
such crossborder violence and because of the enviable public-safety conditions
in the borderlands – whose cities and rural areas have among the lowest crime
rates in the nation.
contributing, albeit marginally, to decreasing popular support for more border
security funding is the growing realization that the illegal drug seizures by
the Border Patrol and other border security operating outside the
ports-of-entry are almost entirely marijuana.
The Border Patrol describes the
Arizona border as a “high risk area,” yet more than 95% of its drug seizures
are of marijuana, a natural substance that generally only dogmatic moralists
consider a “dangerous” good or a threat to the country’s security.
concerns that led to the border security buildup – border-crossing foreign
terrorists, high illegal immigration flows, and spillover violence – the
enthusiasm for border security and the uncritical support for new funding are
diminishing. One result may be more sensible border policies, and another
consequence may be increased demands in Congress that the Border Patrol be held
to much higher standards of accountability.