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Updated Apr 23, 2013 - 8:07 am

Border security: An achievable imperative

Border security is an imperative to addressing national security and transnational criminal threat concerns, as well as a practical necessity to effectively administer a reformed immigration system.

While border security must necessarily address our northern border and incorporate the need to secure sea and air ports of entry as well, our Southwest border has been the initial focal point. It is a real but completely unnecessary vulnerability. We in Arizona have had to face the effects of the federal government's failure to adequately address border security and have seen the commitment of federal resources ebb and fl ow with the political tides. Enough is enough.

The national security imperative for border security is readily evident. Over the last fi ve years, Border Patrol has detained people from 187 different countries along the Southwest border. That includes people from every country on our state-sponsors of terrorism list and from countries designated as "special countries of interest," which include Syria, Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia. Last fi scal year alone, 255 "special interest aliens" were detained. And the intersection of border smuggling and terrorism has been confi rmed. In Congressional testimony on August 1, 2012, Charles K. Edwards, the Acting Inspector General of DHS stated, "DTOs [Drug Traffi cking Organizations] are becoming involved increasingly in systematic corruption of DHS employees to further alien and drug smuggling, including the smuggling of aliens from designated special interest countries likely to export terrorism." It is unconscionable and inexcusable to remain this vulnerable.

The second imperative for border security addresses transnational criminal threats. For Arizona and Maricopa County, we have to face this threat head on and deal with the overall impact of human and drug smuggling every day. In a summary of fi scal year 2012 operations, Customs and Border Protection reported that 35% of the people apprehended along the Southwest border, 124,631 were in Arizona alone. Drugs seized amounted to 1.1 million pounds, also 35% of the total seized along the entire border. The Phoenix metro area is now the Sinaloa Cartel's hub for heroin distribution to meet demand on the East Coast, leading to poppy fi elds replacing marijuana fi elds in Mexico. If we close off the smuggling routes for cartels, there is also more than a reasonable likelihood of decreased border and drug-related violence that must necessarily inure to the benefi t of citizens on both sides of the border.

The third imperative for border security is the practical recognition that to effectively administer an immigration system, you need to restrict the ability for people to circumvent it. Given that approximately half of all people present in the U.S. without lawful authority entered illegally, securing the border to deny anyone the opportunity to enter anywhere other than an authorized port of entry is necessary. While the number of apprehensions is down from a height of 1.68 million in FY 2000 to 356,873 in FY 2012, there is no foolproof way to measure the numbers of successful entries.

How to defi ne border security? An objective defi nition was used by the GAO to assess the Border Patrol's effectiveness in a report to Congress dated February 15, 2011: Preliminary Observations on Border Control Measures for the Southwest Border. In identifying only 873 miles of the nearly 2,000- mile border, roughly 44%, as under any degree of operational control, the GAO used objective defi nitions and performance criteria. That gives us a workable defi nition and a baseline measurement for determining when the border is under operational control and secure, addressing concerns that border security is undefi ned, unachievable and a barrier to other needed reforms. Additionally, completing necessary work across the remainder of the border can occur in parallel while readying other administrative and bureaucratic reforms. The declaration of establishing operational control for 100% of the border can then be used as a triggering event for implementing other reforms.

As for how we establish operational control, fencing is but one element. However, a fence running the entire length of the border is not practical. If you cannot keep eyes on or get to a breach in a timely manner, it is not an obstacle to illegal entry; it is only a speed bump. We can also apply a mix of UAVs, airborne sensors and ground based remote passive and active sensors, coupled with observation towers - manned and unmanned - to create an effective multilayered approach to establishing operational control. We should expect more from our federal government and the safety and security of our citizens demands no less.

Bill Montgomery is the Maricopa County Attorney.


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