The Meaningless Mantra of "Border Security"

The Wall Street Journal put out an amazing op-ed  on the intellectual emptiness of the phrase "border security."

The piece really highlights the disconnect between what is said, about the violence, security and the reality of the current situation on the border.

The author does an excellent job of placing the idea of "border security" in a more historical context:

Does a secure border mean one in which no one is able to cross between the legal entry ports? The most secure border in modern history was probably the Cold War border between East and West Germany. To keep their people from leaving-logistically much easier than keeping others from entering-the East Germans built more than 700 watchtowers, sprinkled more than a million antipersonnel mines, created a deep no-man's zone of barbed wire and electric fencing, and deployed nearly 50 guards per square mile with shoot-to-kill orders. Even so about 1,000 people each year somehow managed to find a way across.

The author then notes that the idea of "Operational Control," another buzz word tossed around by the Department of Homeland Security lacks actionable goals.

Would a secure border then be one over which the U.S. government exercises "operational control"? This is the term of art used by the Border Patrol, and it essentially means that border agents have the capacity to detect and respond to most, if not all, illegal crossings. By that measure, about 700 miles of the border with Mexico are currently deemed to be under control.

Expanding that zone of control is surely a sensible policy to pursue. But at what cost? Without successful deployment of remote sensing technologies, it would take tens of thousands more agents on top of the record 20,000 already deployed to bring operational control to the U.S. borders. Technology was expected to cut those manpower needs dramatically, but the so-called Secure Border Initiative has cost taxpayers nearly a billion dollars so far and has yet to demonstrate even a workable pilot system.

Then goes on to note that the border for all intents and purposes is more secure now then it has ever been before.

Perhaps a secure border is simply one in which enforcement capabilities are bolstering deterrence and dissuading more and more people from attempting illegal crossings. By that standard, the border is more secure than it has ever been at any time in American history. The one number the Border Patrol collects with absolute confidence is the apprehensions it makes each year of illegal border crossers. The smaller that number, the better, because it shows a decline in those attempting illegal crossings.

Last year, the number of apprehensions at the border with Mexico was 540,000, the lowest since the early 1970s, half the level of 2005, and just one-third the figure of a decade ago. Much of this decline is certainly due to a weak economy and higher U.S. unemployment, though it is noteworthy that in the last deep recession (1981-82) there was only a slight dropoff in apprehensions, and the total number remained close to one million annually.

There is much more to be read here. I highly recommend reading this thoughtful piece from beginning to end.