The fact that U.S. government officials have successfully been able to deter another terrorist attack on U.S. soil for almost eight years has made the public altogether forgetful or indifferent to the issue of border and national security. But every day members of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) have been working tirelessly just as hard as they were on the morning of September 11, 2001 as they are presented with the daunting task of keeping terrorists and their weapons outside of our nation’s borders (in addition to enforcing hundreds of other U.S. regulations).
Over 56,000 workers work under the umbrella of CBP, and with a budget of approximately $11.5 billion, they are responsible for monitoring 1,900 miles of the Mexican border, 5,000 miles of the Canadian border and regulating 327 ports of entry. The Heritage Foundation recently featured guest-speaker Jayson P. Ahern, Acting Commissioner of the U.S. CBP, for the “Priorities To Securing the U.S. Border” event to assess the CBP’s current state of operations and discuss the progress and future agenda on the national security front.
Ahern recognized the exceedingly and inherently difficult quandary of maintaining and maximizing national security without severely impacting trade regulations and the economic well-being of numerous parties and populations involved. “We can all agree the wait-times on the borders is unacceptable—there are major capacity problems as many of the facilities and equipment on the border are more than 40-years old,” Ahern said.
“The CBP has been implementing a strategy and term many military personnel are familiar with—the ‘defense in depth’ concept,” Ahern said. “Most people can agree that 100 percent border security [is] not plausible, the ‘defense in depth’ maximizes the number of barriers intruders have to encounter, thereby maximizing the number of opportunities to make mistakes, draw attention and get caught.”
There have been many encouraging signs of progress which speak volumes on recent successes of CBP programs and policies, including the “defense and depth” concept and the Tactical Infrastructure (TI) program.
“There has been a 25 percent drop in illegal-alien apprehensions the past year, 50 percent over a two-year period. And there has been a record amount of drug apprehension—Arizona was recently the first to hit the one-million pound mark,” Ahern stated. “Now I know we can have all kinds of debate whether this is mostly due to the economic downturn, and it may be. But I can also show you historical records and recent statistics showing that this began before the downturn.”
Under the CBP’s TI program, which consists of developing advanced technologies and building physical components such as lights and towers, roads, pedestrian fences, and vehicle fences, 633 miles of fencing have been constructed as of July, 2009.
In order for TI to be successful, there needs to be sufficient detection and tracking coverage, sufficient tracking in depth to allow agents time to react before the “vanishing point,” and sufficient capacity to handle the number of apprehended.
“TI is very controversial because of the touchy illegal-immigration subject, but it works. Human-traffickers and drug-runners now realize they can’t easily enter because of the vast remote areas in the desert,” Ahern said.
“Our TI program has been teaming with Boeing in technology, and there are 13 towers being built across the Southwest border to best utilize and streamline their uses,” he continued. “Border security is not simply a numbers game, where you can just throw more agents and money at problems. New technologies—such as UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles)—are extremely critical because they allow us to detect and deter potential illegal-aliens long before they reach the fenaces and border,” Ahern stated. “And so now we will probably have to deal with the advent of many more underground tunnels.”
In regards to the threat of cargo shipments being utilized as a mean for terrorist attacks, Ahern informed the audience that 93 percent of incoming cargo currently undergo radiation-scanning to detect any questionable materials onboard.
“The 100 percent rhetoric used by many people is simply short-sighted and uninformed,” Ahern contended. “The extreme impact, cost, and damage it would have on sovereign nations all around the world would be devastating even if every threat in the shipments could be mitigated.”
During the question-and-answer segment of the event, one member in the audience asked Ahern if, and how much frustration the agency feels about the federal government’s “micromanagement” of border security—“After all it’s not like they’re dictating how many foxholes should be dug in Afghanistan,” the individual wryly noted.
“Yeah, I’m not in a politically-appointed position so you would think there would be more autonomy, but yes, let’s allow the experts to do their job and operate the operations,” Ahern agreed full-heartily. “But then again, we can’t just throw up our hands and give up every time we encounter another bureaucratic obstacle. It’s the CBP’s job to constantly perform thoughtful analysis and always find the best alternatives around those obstacles—we’re just going to have to continue to climb that hill,” he conceded.