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Tuesday, October 4, 2022
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PERSPECTIVE: Why the Border Needs More Physical and Electronic Security Infrastructure

With much debate circulating about the current funding issues surrounding the security of the border and ultimately national security of the United States, citizens in question need to ask themselves to what extent this is necessary and why. If you have never visited or lived near the Southwest border between Mexico and the United States, ask yourself what it must truly be like in that region.

The Unknown

Recent news concerning illegal immigration has driven partisan opinions, but has been reluctant to discuss the true dynamic facing individuals living within this region of the country. While the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website hosts various statistics on apprehensions and confiscations, they do not provide much insight into individuals and contraband that evaded detection and subsequent apprehension. This is where the true danger lies, in those instances of unaccounted-for incursions. The fact that unidentified individuals, unknown quantities of narcotics, and potential weapons are entering the United States undetected, outside the ports of entry, is a real concern that should not be discounted. These are potentially individuals with unknown criminal histories, but certainly of unknown descent and nationality, who hold varying degrees of beliefs towards the United States. While their non-detection affords these individuals a degree of anonymity, we can extrapolate from CBP arrest statistics that there are individuals, undetected, entering the United States from countries that have terrorist affiliations, not simply from Mexico and Central America, as commonly referred to in the media.

Border Patrol Agents’ Perspective

How can we better understand what is happening along the Southwest border? Whom better to ask than the Border Patrol agents themselves, who are tasked daily with securing the border and protecting the national security of the United States. In a 2018 academic study, former agents were interviewed about issues working along the Southwest border, to which they shared a variety of concerns. Interview results were then sorted into several main categories. Agents described the biggest threats to national security as “the unknown nature of the job, the porous border, those who evade apprehension/arrest, and the terrain in which they work.” The second most common response was “a lack of cooperation with other countries and former political agendas, to include an ignorant public and decision makers.” The third most common response was “terrorism and those who make false claims while seeking asylum.” Next was their “lack of manpower in the field and illegal immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.” These examples show the complexities concerning security that agents face on a daily basis, and that we face as a country.

Accountability

What will a completed border wall and increased electronic security infrastructure do? Knowing that we simply cannot account for all the unknown elements at the border, we as a country cannot afford to have a porous border region allowing for unaccounted, open-access entry. The same way we lock our doors at night, have a fence around our yard, and perhaps even live in a gated community, we should secure points of access into the U.S. Increased physical security infrastructure provides several things. First and foremost, rather than simply slowing the flow of illegal immigration into the United States, it provides a layer of protection for the Border Patrol agents who patrol the border regions on a 24-hour rotation. It defines the border of the United States and sends the message that it is unacceptable to cross outside of a port of entry.

Secondly, increases in electronic security assets and infrastructure could aid agents in specific high-traffic areas. By having cameras and other emerging technology strategically placed in areas where no border wall exists, in order to aid in patrolling efforts along the Southwest border, we could have a better means of accounting for those individuals entering illegally into the country. This digital information, however, would have to be kept secure and maintained in order to ensure its integrity for decision makers within the U.S. government. Moreover, if published, one could reason that it would provide a better position from which to argue the necessity and effectiveness of an actual physical barrier, as well as additional funding and assets.

Conclusion

It is through the perspective of the Border Patrol agent that we can best understand the intricacies, dangers, and difficulties of securing the nation along the Southwest border. These are the people that protect us from the unknown, the narcotics, the weapons, and perhaps the potential terrorist. It is these men and women, those who purposefully place themselves in harm’s way on a daily basis to ensure the national security of the United States, that have to move with the changes in the political climate, oftentimes dependent upon those who have never traveled to the Southwest border to provide them with the assets necessary to appropriately and safely complete their job. This type of insight could mend the gap between higher-level and field-level policy implementation, in turn improving the national security of the United States as well as the safety and livelihood of Border Patrol agents.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

Heidi Hamburger
Dr. Heidi Hamburger is a former Border Patrol Agent, where she worked along the United States Southwest border. Prior to that, she was a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras for over two years. She completed her Ph.D. studies in Public Policy and Administration, focusing on Terrorism, Mediation, and Peace. Dr. Hamburger’s background lends a unique perspective to national security concerns and public policy issues as it relates to the Southwest border. She also has a growing interest in the comparative analysis of international border security affairs.

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