Respect the Border

“A nation without borders is not a nation,” said former president Ronald Reagan, a true visionary of his generation and a most valiant leader of the free world during the 1980s. Border security has digressed in the past 20 years. Our current president, in his arrogance, recently told Mexican President Filipe Calderon that “in the 21st century we are not defined by our borders, but by our bond.”

It’s disturbing to me that our bond as a nation now seems to be leading to porous borders on the southwestern frontier, where gangs, thugs and drug cartels run rampant in the streets like the wild west of the late 1890s. Shootings, muggings, rapes and beheadings of innocent victims are not an exception but the rule of lawlessness.

Not only do we as U.S. citizens have a right to be concerned about security, we should be up in arms about what the federal government is not doing to protect our country.

Most recently, Mr. Obama announced that he will reduce the 1,200 federally paid National Guard troops deployed along the U.S.-Mexican border and give the marquee operation back to the Border Patrol. There’s nothing wrong with the Border Patrol other than it isn’t sufficiently armed or trained to battle the criminal elements that have seized major thoroughfares into the country.

Mr. Obama, you are wrong.

You, sir, have an obligation to protect these United States, and you are failing miserably by reducing the number of troops along the border. You would do well to increase the strength of security along the border to protect the law-abiding citizens of this country, who deserve the security that this would afford.

Thankfully, the administration does have a hint of good sense by replacing ground troops with Army National Guard and Air National Guard staff carrying out surveillance by aircraft, helicopters and unmanned drones. This hint of commitment to border security is appreciated and obviously is a result of lessons learned along the border to date.

I believe border enforcement with boots on the ground is critical to maintaining the safe and secure border, though administration officials have said “if people concentrate on the number of troops on the ground, they’re sort of missing the point.” Not true, in my opinion; as a drawdown in National Guard troops comes, there is somewhat of an increase in border security officers. But even though that fosters a mentality of boots on the ground, the point is that those new boots are somewhat ill-prepared to face cartels and semi-automatic weapons.

The administration has moved in the right direction since 2001, which is obviously not all the doing of the current administration. A decade ago, there were about 9,000 border agents on duty. Now there are almost 18,200. Border apprehensions have plummeted from 1.6 million in 2000 to slightly more than 340,000 in fiscal 2010. But, perhaps because the job market has been so tough here, the number of undocumented immigrants attempting to cross the border has declined.

A Gallup poll from September 2010 on Americans’ view of government asked a simple question: “Can you please give me an example of something the federal government is currently NOT doing that you think it SHOULD be doing?”

About 15 percent of respondents said the government should be concentrating on jobs, and 13 percent said the government should be securing the borders and addressing immigration issues. Republicans, more than Democrats, believe the government should be active in securing the country’s borders.

Putting partisan politics aside, the government better consider the effect the cartels are having on border cities and their inhabitants. One of the best information sources is “Cartel: The Coming Invasion of Mexico’s Drug Wars” by Sylvia Longmire, a former intelligence analyst for the Air Force and the state of California.

The book is filled with comprehensive knowledge about the cartels, their activities and how they recruit and bring their product into the United States. While many worry about spillover on the border, Longmire writes that the problem is already here, and it’s having a distinct impact upon society.

Insufficient resources dedicated to border security, coupled with a lack of will to effectively enforce the law, have allowed nearly a half-million people each year to cross our borders illegally or remain illegally in the country after their visas have expired. Nearly half of all illegal immigrants entering the United States come through the Tucson, Ariz., sector. This seems like the right place for border security to start—in Tucson.

The Government Accountability Office estimates that the Border Patrol has operational control of less than half—44 percent—of the southwestern border. Sophisticated and brutal drug cartel operations are reaching into Arizona’s border communities. Public lands have been off-limits due to increased violence.

It’s obvious to me that border security should be one of the top five concerns for the administration.

This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Security Today.

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