Top 10 Strategies for Securing the U.S.-Mexico Border

Mike O'Brien

Increasing alarm at America’s illegal immigration figures – and the escalation of violence in the Mexican drug wars – has turned the need to secure its southern border into a hot political issue.

Apprehensions of would-be immigrants along the U.S.-Mexico border have dropped by 53 percent since 2008, which would appear to show the Department of Homeland Security is winning the fight in the never-ending border battle.

Aside from merely stopping people from entering the country, from 2009 to 2011 the U.S. Border Patrol has also confiscated 74 percent more currency, 41 percent more drugs and 159 percent more weapons than it did from 2006 through 2008.

Here presents the top 10 strategies that have been employed in securing the border.

1: Greater staffing levels

David F. Williams, the Director of the Border Security Center for Research, Education, Training & Technical Assistance, at New Mexico Tech, told "Based on multiple interviews conducted by me with ranchers, farmers, local law enforcement officers, and residents along New Mexico’s border, the deployment of over 10,000 military personnel during ‘Operation Jump Start’ was the most effective measure and period of border security.

Related: Tougher Mexican Border Security is Part of New Immigration Plan

There are, however, vast areas that are still under-protected. Mr. Williams said: "Even with the extra manpower USBP has now, because interdiction efforts focus on roads and associated choke points where agents have more mobility and ease of access and hence can make more seizures per man hour, the remote areas within the USA south of major paved roads are under protected to the detriment of local ranchers, farmers and other residents.

"The obvious analogue to this historical perspective is that forward deployment of at least 10k military personnel in remote and rugged terrain north of the international border in the Southwest for observation and reporting, and as a deterrent, would again be the most effective short term measure available for enhancing border security."

2: Intelligence

Identifying and developing a comprehensive understanding of terrorist and transnational criminal threats to the Nation’s borders is paramount in accomplishing the Border Patrol’s mission.

The CBP must operate by strategically using intelligence to ensure that Border Patrol operations are focused and targeted against potential terrorist threats and against TCOs. To accomplish the Border Patrol’s mandated mission, it must continue to integrate intelligence and enforcement capabilities into the planning and execution of CBP operations.

Related: [VIDEO] Evolving the Border Strategy 2012-2016

The capacity to develop timely, well-formulated, and actionable intelligence is vital to the prevention and disruption of threats. The CBP supports an integrated intelligence platform that promotes information sharing throughout the domestic and foreign law enforcement community.

3: Drones

Mr. Williams said: "I heard one senior field USBP official say that the multimillion dollar investment had done nothing for his Sector. He mused that it might have some strategic value, but it wasn’t helping the patrol agents on the ground.

"The introduction and greater use of small tactical drones to be deployed by individual operators may have the most potential, though there are significant challenges involving their safe operation in US airspace and in training operators.

"On the other hand, investments in helos and fixed wing light observation aircraft capable of low attitude, slow flight equipped with multi-sensor systems remain among the most effective and cost effective technology tools available for interdiction of smugglers."

4: International cooperation

Coordination with foreign law enforcement partners is important to the nation’s security. By assisting international partners with gathering and analyzing information and intelligence, and increasing the efficiency of their operations, terrorist and transnational criminal threats can be identified and interdicted before they reach the borders of the U.S.

The Border Patrol works with the CBP Office of International Affairs to deploy qualified Border Patrol subject-matter experts abroad to conduct assessments of other nations’ border security, border-security forces and training needs.

Border Patrol agents are often requested to provide specialized training tailored to the specific needs of partner nations.

Basic training missions include Border Patrol presentations of tactical skills and "table-top exercises" sponsored by various U.S. Government agencies, including the Department of State and the Department of Defense (DoD). The Border Patrol also provides training support to other Federal agencies operating in partner nations.

But many analysts believe more work needs to be done in building up a relationship with Mexico. Rick Van Schoik, Director of the North American Center for Transborder Studies (NACTS) at Arizona State University, told "The 3 Ds of the new world are diplomacy, defense and development and we have neglected the third when it comes to trade and Mexico.

"We need to invest in the non-invasive technologies that integrate security into trade facilitation at ports of entry so that both economies can grow as we build and export to the world products made together. Invest in ports versus between them to build sustainable and economic security on both sides."

5: Surveillance systems

Mr. Williams said: "Local ranchers laugh at USBP use of sensors, observing that if they can spot their placement, so can the look outs on mountain sides and the smugglers traveling down on the ground. Likewise, how long do you think it takes for these look outs to report the arrival in an area of a mobile surveillance truck with its telescoping sensor antenna.

"Operational security by CBP and supporting National Guard personnel is very poor. Units even after dark announce their location by use of headlights to drive to their set up site and from poor light discipline by operators.

"During one highly touted operation by the National Guard, I was sitting in a small community near the border as the military vehicle with sensor package on top drove down the valley to the end of the paved road just before dark. This was in a valley known by Border Patrol and residents alike to have smuggler look outs on the mountain sides on both sides of the valley. How effective was that! Maybe as a deterrent for the brief period of deployment, but certainly not for interdiction of smuggling.

"The counter argument is that the high profile surveillance systems (and the ones authorities think are not so obvious) channel the smugglers into choke points for apprehension. Sounds good as an answer, but I have not seen data nor observations to support such claims."

6: Integrated Mission Analysis

Integrated Mission Analysis (IMA) uses a systematic and comprehensive methodology to track, assess, and forecast vulnerabilities, consequences, and capabilities of CBP and matches these with known or potential threats.

The IMA process supports the Border Patrol’s risk-based approach to border security by integrating operational and threat-condition assessments. These operational statistics, threat indicators, and warnings are used to estimate risk.

The 2012-2016 Border Patrol Strategicv Plan states: "Outputs from the IMA process help security stakeholders in determining gaps and critical threats, vulnerabilities and risks. Through the use of IMA, commanders have both the data and analysis to effectively track, assess and forecast risk."

7: Legislation

A greatly improved system of surveillance along the southern border, plus a high rate of apprehensions of people trying to cross, are key components in the upcoming, landmark immigration bill.

The bipartisan group of senators who drafted the legislation called for surveillance of 100 percent of the entire border and 90 percent apprehension rate in "high risk" areas where most people try to cross.

The legislation also requires employers undertaking mandatory electronic verification of their workers' legal status and a new electronic exit system at airports and seaports.

8: Improved fencing

CBP has so far completed 651 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fencing along the southwest border. CBP has constructed a total of 352 miles of primary pedestrian fence and 299 miles of vehicle fence.

The new immigration legislation has earmarked $1.5 billion for improvements to fencing along the border.

9. Mobile response capability

Given the dynamic nature of cross-border threats, the Border Patrol has had to ensure that it has the mobile capability to properly respond to changing threats. This mobile response capability provides the Border Patrol with the flexibility to deploy capabilities to the highest risk areas of the border. This capability builds on situational awareness, because the CBP must know when, where, and to what extent to deploy its capabilities.

The agency’s Mobile Response Team (MRT) provides a national group of organized, trained, and equipped Border Patrol agents who are capable of rapid movement to regional and national incidents and events in support of priority CBP operations.

The MRT utilizes mobile surveillance systems (MVSS) and responds to intelligence-driven targets and shifts in local and cross-border criminal activity as deemed necessary by the sector’s Chief Patrol Agent. The MRT provides a flexible, enhanced, tiered-response capability to counter the evolving threats along the operational areas of the nation’s borders.

10: Advanced technologies

Mr. Van Schoik said: "Technology has been integrated with staff and infrastructure sufficient for compatible and interoperable communications to link various levels of law enforcement, remote sites (i.e. check points), and across border so that broad and deep information and intelligence are available to officers on the line everywhere."

Many of the issues rasied in this article will be discussed at IDGA's 4th Annual Border Management SouthWest summit later this month. For more details, go to