At US border, era of fence-building, manpower 'surge' at an end
A strategy shift is under way at the US border patrol, with intelligence and risk to national security taking priority over adding more fences and additional manpower. Why the change?
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Arizona state Sen. Steve Smith, for one, thinks little of the border patrol's new priorities.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The scene at the US/Mexico border
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“Our federal government, they don’t see the magnitude of this problem,” says the Republican, who in July launched a fundraising website to build a state border fence. “It’s folly … to stop putting up things that we know work, that we know are an impediment,” he adds, saying fencing is part of the solution, along with manpower and technology.
For years, immigrant advocacy groups have pressed for change in border patrol tactics. Tighter border enforcement in California and Texas in the mid-1990s pushed the flow of illegal border crossers to Arizona, where remote desert areas became the top entry point for migrants, some of whom perished making the journey.
“Fences now exist in all but the most remote and impassable areas, the ratio of migrants to [enforcement] personnel is at historic lows, and the ratio of dollars per apprehension is at historic highs,” concludes a yearlong study by the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights advocacy group, and Mexico’s College of the Northern Border.
“Meanwhile, it is not even clear how much of the reduction in migration owes to security measures – though some certainly does – and how much owes to other factors like recession and fear of organized crime,” states the study, which was released in April. “Additional dollars for current border security priorities will yield little additional payoff and are unnecessary.”
It's evident that heavy funding for the US border patrol is no longer a priority, says George McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union that represents most border patrol agents. Part of the reason is that resources were wasted, he says, on a plan to add $1 billion in technology along the 2,000-mile US-Mexican border to serve as a "virtual" fence.
“It didn’t do anything for the American public,” Mr. McCubbin says of the failed project, known as SBInet.
He also acknowledges a problem with corruption inside the agency, but says agency administrators bear the responsibility. In trying to fulfill Congress’s mandate to hire thousands of agents within a certain time frame, background checks were put off until after agents were already on the job, McCubbin says.
“The negative result of all that is, we hired a bunch of bad people,” he adds. “It’s a concern for all of us.”
IN PICTURES: The scene at the US/Mexico border