Border Patrol’s Strategic Plan Not Yet in Place, Audit Finds, But Security has Clearly Improved

US Border Patrol’s 2012-2016 national border security strategy — its first new strategic plan in eight years — began to be implemented more than a year ago. But the report of a new congressional audit that was released Jan. 9 said Border Patrol “has not identified milestones and time frames for developing and implementing performance goals and measures [for the plan] in accordance with standard practices in program management” that are essential “to defin[ing] border security and the resources necessary to achieve it.”

“Border Patrol officials stated that performance goals and measures are in development for assessing the progress of agency efforts to secure the border between the [land] ports of entry [PoE], and [that] since fiscal year 2011, the Department of Homeland Security [DHS] has used the number of apprehensions on the southwest border as an interim goal and measure,” said the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in its nearly 100-page audit report. However, “this interim measure does not inform program results and therefore limits DHS and congressional oversight and accountability.”

In its audit report, Key Elements of New Strategic Plan Not Yet in Place to Inform Border Security Status and Resource Needs, GAO maintained that “Milestones and time frames could assist Border Patrol in monitoring progress in developing goals and measures necessary to assess the status of border security and the extent to which existing resources and capabilities are appropriate and sufficient.”

In response to the GAO audit, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said in a statement prepared for Homeland Security Today Friday that “CBPconcurs with the GAO’s recommendations and is working to implement performance measures that help further demonstrate the progress [the agency has] made in securing the border.”

“As noted in the [GAO] report,” CBP said in its statement, “‘DHS has dramatically increased resources and activities at the southwest border over the past several years to deter illegal border crossings and secure the border.’ As a result, ‘apprehensions decreased within each southwest border sector and by 68 percent in the Tucson Sector from fiscal years 2006 to 2011.’”

CBP also noted that “The Border Patrol is better staffed than at any time in its 88-year history and seizures of illicit goods are up across the board. Violent crime in border communities has remained flat or fallen in the past decade, and statistics have shown that some of the safest communities in America are along the border.”

CBP said “We continue to work with our federal, state, local, tribal, territorial and Mexican partners to keep our communities safe.”

Responding to GAO’s findings, Border Patrol officials told Homeland Security Today on background that the southwest border is far more secure than it’s ever been, and that Border Patrol’s new national border security strategy is designed to address the security realities on America’s borders, as Homeland Security Today first exclusively reported.

In fiscal year 2011, Border Patrol apprehended 327,118 illegal border crossers, and estimated that as many as 208,813 escaped. Of those, 85,827 made it into the United States and the others turned back.

Since FY 1999, total apprehensions have hovered at several thousand below and above 1 million, sometimes dropping below the 1 million mark for several years, according to figures CBP provided to Homeland Security Today. Coinciding with the decline in apprehensions of Mexican nationals, in FY 2007, total apprehensions began to significantly decline.

Between FY 1999 through FY 2007, apprehensions of Mexican nationals hovered between slightly over 800,000 in FY 2007 to 1.5 million in FY 2000. In FY 2003, apprehensions dropped to 882,000. In FY 2006, apprehensions began a yearly decline, from 981,000 to 404,000 in FY 2010.

GAO’s auditors said the number of recidivist offenders dropped from about 42 percent in FY 2008 to 36 percent in FY 2011, and that narcotics seizures rose 83 percent in FY 2011 compared with FY 2006. More than a quarter of the contraband seizures took place in the Tucson sector.

The new chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Michael McCaul, (R-Texas), said “The bottom line is we are far from having operational control of our borders, particularly the Southwest border, and as the GAO reports, there still are no metrics to quantify progress. Meanwhile, the threat from groups ranging from Islamist extremists to drug cartels continues to grow.”

Rep. Ron Barber (D-Ariz),  a member of the House Homeland Security Committee and House Border Security Caucus, also maintained in a statement that GAO determined Border Patrol has an “inadequate strategy to improve security.”

“The Department of Homeland Security, with the support of Congress, has made significant investments in border security in recent years,” added Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss), ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security. “There are positive indicators that these investments are helping to make our borders more secure. However, DHS needs to fully develop its strategic plan, including border security milestones and timelines, to truly be able to measure its success in securing our nation’s borders.”

GAO’s audit of how Border Patrol manages resources in the critical southwest border region, specifically in the Tucson Sector, had been requested by Thompson and Barber.

Earlier this month, the Center for American Progress’s Marshall Fitz and Philip E. Wolgin examined the progress DHS has made in securing the border, and stated: “One of the most common refrains voiced by opponents of immigration reform is that it must wait until the federal government has secured our border with Mexico and enforced the nation’s current immigration laws.”

“Ten years ago those claims carried some force,” Fitz and Wolgin said. But “At the time, there had been large-scale undocumented migration for a sustained period; the border was relatively porous; and immigration enforcement in the country was less organized than it could have been. Ten years later, however, the facts on the ground have changed dramatically.”

Continuing, the Washington, DC-based think tank’s researchers said “The need to do more to control the border became a basic building block of the 2006 and 2007 congressional attempts to pass what became known as comprehensive immigration reform. Though these bills did not become law, border security itself has grown exponentially since. Through administration policy, congressional appropriations and passage of discrete enforcement legislation such as the Secure Fence Act, the federal government has deployed massive enforcement resources at the border and in the interior.”

And “The impacts have been profound,” Fitz and Wolgin said, noting that:

  • Net undocumented migration is now at or below zero;
  • The number of people apprehended crossing the border has decreased, even as border agents now patrol every single mile of the border every day and in many places have 100 percent eyes on the border — meaning that they can view nearly all attempts to cross the border in real time;
  • Annual deportations have reached historic levels; and
  • There are more “boots on the ground” at the border than there have ever been in history.

“The fact of the matter is that the border is more secure now than it has ever been,” reported Fitz and Wolgin. “And yet, some members of Congress continue to insist that the border is unsafe, and as such, that they will hold immigration reform hostage until we have secured the border. With more than $17 billion spent each year on immigration and border enforcement, this is not only a misguided approach, but an expensive one as well.”

In FY 2011, “DHS reported data meeting its goal to secure the land border with a decrease in apprehensions,” and that “our data analysis showed that apprehensions decreased within each southwest border sector and by 68 percent in the Tucson sector from fiscal years 2006 to 2011, due in part to changes in the US economy and achievement of Border Patrol strategic objectives,” GAO’s audit concluded.

GAO added that “These data generally mirrored the decrease in estimated known illegal entries across locations. Other data are used by Border Patrol sector management to assess efforts in securing the border against the threat of illegal migration, drug smuggling and terrorism; and Border Patrol may use these data to assess border security at the national level as the agency transitions to a new strategic plan."

"Our analysis of these data indicated that in the Tucson sector there was little change in the percentage of estimated known illegal entrants apprehended by Border Patrol over the past five fiscal years, and the percentage of individuals apprehended who repeatedly crossed the border illegally declined across the southwest border by six percent from fiscal years 2008 to 2011," GAO said. Additionally, the number of drug seizures increased from 10,321 in fiscal year 2006 to 18,898 in fiscal year 2011, and apprehensions of aliens from countries determined to be at an increased risk of sponsoring terrorism increased from 239 in fiscal year 2006 to 309 in fiscal year 2010, but decreased to 253 in fiscal year 2011.”

Continuing, GAO said “The Tucson sector scheduled more agent workdays in fiscal year 2011 for enforcement activities related to patrolling the border than other sectors; however, data limitations preclude comparison of overall effectiveness in how each sector has deployed resources to secure the border. In fiscal year 2011 the Tucson sector scheduled 73 percent of agent workdays for enforcement activities, and of these activities, 71 percent were scheduled for patrolling within 25 miles of the border. Other sectors scheduled from 44 to 70 percent of agent enforcement workdays for patrolling the border. Border Patrol sectors assess how effectively they use resources to secure the border, but differences in how sectors collect and report the data preclude comparing results.”

The GAO’s audit report said nothing about Border Patrol’s concerns that Mexican organized crime cartels’ smuggling of drugs and the illegal entry of “Special Interest Aliens” (SIAs) who may pose a threat to national security into the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) in Texas has risen so quickly that Border Patrol and law enforcement officials now refer to the "Valley" as “the new Arizona," as Homeland Security Today reported in Dec. 2011.

Statistics show that in FY 2011, there were more than 42,000 apprehensions of non-recidivist illegal aliens in the Rio Grande Sector — the second highest number after the 76,000 apprehended in the Tucson Sector, and that the Rio Grande Valley Sector accounted for the second highest number of seizures of contraband in FY 2011, 3,730, compared to 5,299 in the Tucson Sector.

While drug and human smuggling in the Tucson Sector continues at a brisk pace, the “Valley" has become “ground zero” on the southern border for narco-trafficking and the illegal smuggling of citizens from countries other than Mexico, officially referred to by CBP as “Other Than Mexicans” (OTMs), according to numerous authorities interviewed by Homeland Security Today.

The number of aliens from Special Interest Countries apprehended across the
Southwest Border Patrol Sectors in fiscal years 2010 and 2011 were dramatically higher in the Rio Grande Valley Sector than in any other sector.

But more disturbing, throughout the Rio Grande Valley there’s been a parallel rise in violent gunfights and assaults on federal, state and local law enforcement.

Border Patrol began to implementand integrate its new national strategy into policy, plans, operations and procedures in the Fall of 2011, and officially announced the new strategy in May, 2012. The strategy had already been outlined in a 30-page document distributed six months earlier to senior Border Patrol and CBP officials across the country. Meanwhile, line agents were given PowerPoint briefings to ensure Border Patrol’s workforce understood the agency’s new strategic direction, which was specifically designed to address the realities of today’s improved border security environment, especially the southern border with Mexico.

Eight years since Border Patrol’s last national strategy, the time was long overdue for a thorough overhaul of its border security strategic plan. And it was only after a long and arduous process that began several years ago that the new national strategic plan was finalized two years ago in the document, 2012-2016 Border Patrol National Strategy – The Mission: Protect America, first obtained by Homeland Security Today.

“The 2012-2016 Border Patrol National Strategy represents an evolution from the 2004 Strategy to account for, and take advantage of, changes and improvements in the border environment and the Border Patrol since 9/11,” Border Patrol Chief Mike Fisher explained in a personal message accompanying the new strategy document.

“Threats to our border have evolved since 2004, and the Border Patrol’s resources and capabilities to meet these threats have also grown,” Fisher said in his introduction to his agency’s new national strategy, which is an evolution from a resources-based approach toward a risk-based approach,” and a strategy that’s “built on a framework using information, integration and rapid response to better secure our border in the most risk-based, effective and efficient manner.”

“Information, integration and rapid response,” is Border Patrol’s new mantra,” Fisher said, noting, however, that the “end state” of Border Patrol’s new national strategy is to manage risk along the borders to prevent terrorism, increase and sustain certainty of arrest of those who enter illegally into the US, and reduce smuggling and crimes associated with smuggling.

The 2012-2016 national strategy is a transition from a resource-based approach to a risk based approach that stresses the importance of a whole-of-government and comprehensive approach to achieving Border Patrol’s desired results, according to briefings given to supervisory and line agents in recent months on “how [the agency’s] sectors [will] implement the 2012-2016 strategy into operations.”

Essential to Border Patrol’s new national strategy is its focus on intelligence-driven operations in “identifying and developing a comprehensive understanding of terrorist and transnational criminal threats to our nation’s borders,” which Fisher said is “of paramount importance to the Border Patrol’s mission” to prevent terrorists, weapons of mass destruction and other homeland threats from reaching US soil.

The “end state” of Border Patrol’s new five-year strategy is managing risk along the nation’s borders to prevent terrorism, increase and sustain certainty of arrest of those who enter illegally into the US, and to reduce smuggling and crimes associated with smuggling — all goals Border Patrol officials and frontline boots on the ground agents told Homeland Security Today is “well under way,” as one put it.

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