Border security is a critical component of our Nation’s broader counterterrorism and immigration policies. It is a massive challenge as roughly 6,000 miles of continental border snake through diverse and often treacherous terrain. As criminal smuggling organizations become increasingly sophisticated and dangerous, this task grows ever more troublesome. Securing the border requires operational and technical innovation on the part of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) along with rigorous and careful evaluation and analysis of its current activities and potential investments.
Recently the Homeland Security Studies and Analysis Institute (HSSAI) performed an Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) to help CBP evaluate its Secure Border Initiative (SBInet). The SBInet is an integrated system of personnel, infrastructure, and technology intended to monitor the Southwest border. HSSAI's AoA included a comprehensive study examining different configurations of technology and personnel, and concluded that no single approach worked best. The analysis determined that the ideal configuration is highly dependent on the specifics of each area. Informed heavily by this assessment, in January 2011 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano canceled the program in favor of using existing and tailored technologies. Additionally, the detailed results the team provided were used to help CBP assess its requirements for individual replacement technologies across its Southwest border sectors.
"The department's decision to use technology based on the particular security needs of each segment of the border is a far wiser approach, and I hope it will be more cost effective," said Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Joe Lieberman. HSSAI continues to apply its AoA expertise to other homeland security challenges, including border security.
The pressures surrounding border security have evolved over time. For much of its history, the United States has allowed what today would be considered loose or relaxed border security (with a few historical exceptions).* Driving this approach was an abundance of unused land and strong demand for labor. This began to change in the 1980s based on a number of factors, including amplified attention on the war on drugs, economic conditions, increasing sensitivity to the perceived burdens associated with illegal immigration, and issues concerning federal and state responsibilities. The attacks of September 11th further intensified the focus on border security as a function of the counterterrorism mission.
*Alden, E., and Roberts, B. (2011) “Are U.S. Borders Secure?” Foreign Affairs 90 (4): 19–26.