Influence of Mexican Drug Cartels
Violent Border Battles
Criminal Nexus at the Border
Smuggler's Disregard for Lives
Attacks on U.S. Officers
Smuggler's Technology & Arms
Attacks on U.S. Citizens
Terrorist Infiltration
Texas Border Security Initiatives
Federal Border Security Efforts


News for Public Officials

A Line in the Sand: Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border



Federal Border Security Efforts

The Federal government has launched numerous successful initiatives to secure our Nation’s Southwest border. Operation Hold the Line in El Paso, Texas and Operation Gatekeeper in San Diego, California were introduced in September 1993 and October 1994, respectively. Both programs led to a significant drop in apprehensions of illegal aliens.

Under Operation Hold the Line, Border Patrol agents were reassigned to duty on the border, thereby mobilizing resources along the border around the clock. Agents assumed positions along the border, visible to both would-be crossers and to each other. This deployment effectively stopped numerous day-crossers, resulting in a 70% drop in apprehensions. This operation demonstrated that adequate resources are the key to obtaining control over border areas.

Under Operation Gatekeeper, a similar plan was implemented. Many agents were transferred to high visibility positions along the border and a three-tiered system of agent

deployment was instituted to facilitate apprehensions of illegal aliens who evaded capture through the first line of defense. The Border Patrol in San Diego also received new equipment, including four wheel drive vehicles, infrared night scopes, electronic sensors and portable radios.

More recently, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), a comprehensive multi-year plan to secure the borders of the United States’ and reduce the number of illegal aliens crossing the borders. SBI includes:

  • More agents to patrol our borders, secure our ports of entry and enforce immigration laws;
  • Expanded detention and removal capabilities to eliminate “catch and release;”
  • A comprehensive and systemic upgrading of the technology used in controlling the border, including increased manned aerial assets, expanded use of UAVs, and next-generation detection technology;
  • Increased investment in infrastructure improvements at the border – providing additional physical security to sharply reduce illegal border crossings; and
  • Greatly increased interior enforcement of our immigration laws – including more robust worksite enforcement.

On September 21, 2006 DHS awarded a contract to implement SBI net along the United States Northern and Southwest borders. The SBI plan is an integrated mix of increased staffing, increased interior enforcement, greater investment in detection technology and infrastructure, and enhanced coordination on international, Federal, State, and local levels. A critical component of the SBI strategy is SBInet, a program focused on transforming border control through technology and infrastructure. During the next eight months, SBInet technology will be deployed on the Southwest border. Following this initial deployment, additional task orders will be issued focusing first on the Southwest border.

On May 15, 2006, President Bush announced the National Guard would assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Under Operation Jump Start, up to 6,000 National Guard will be sent to the Southwest border for a two-year deployment to assist CBP with logistical and administrative support, operate detection systems, provide mobile communications, augment border-related intelligence analysis efforts and build and install border security infrastructure.

Recently, the Federal government implemented another important action to secure the Southwest border. In July 2006, ICE ended its so called “catch and release” program. Currently, 99 percent of illegal aliens apprehended are now being detained for return.

Prior to initiating this policy, most individuals who were apprehended for crossing the border illegally were not detained, but instead provided with a notice to appear for adjudication of their immigration status and released into the general population pending a hearing. Unfortunately, a very small percentage of these individuals appeared at their scheduled time. Most ignored the notice and simply became part of the illegal alien population residing in the United States. Ending this policy is a major step forward in securing our border and addressing the issue of illegal immigration. DHS has also implemented an interior repatriation program. Under this program, Mexicans who are apprehended at the border are returned to their hometowns in the interior of the country. By returning illegal aliens to the interior, far from the border, it is more difficult to reattempt illegal entry into the United States.

DHS is also working to end the Orantes injunction. The Orantes injunction, issued more than 17 years ago, mandates that the U.S. Government provide Salvadorans with a specific notice of rights indicating that they are entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge . The injunction was based heavily on civil rights abuses in El Salvador which do not currently exist and affords Salvadorans arrested by immigration officers greater protections than aliens of other nationalities. El Salvadorans account for the largest number of apprehended illegal aliens, with the exception of Mexicans. An injunction imposed in the 1980’s interferes with El Salvadorian removals. This outdated injunction is a major obstacle in DHS’ effort to implement a policy of “catch and return.” DHS is seeking court and legislative action to end it.

Confiscated Weapons

Also, in response to the increased criminal activity and violence along the Texas-Mexico border, especially in Nuevo Laredo and Laredo, ICE established Operation Black Jack in July 2005. Operation Black Jack subsequently evolved into the Border Enforcement and Security Task Force (BEST). The ICE task force includes Federal, State and local law enforcement represented by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Marshals Service, Laredo Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, and Mexico’s Federal Protective Police (PFP). To date, BEST has made 63 arrests and seized more than 700 pounds of marijuana, more than 300 pounds of cocaine, 42 assault rifles 18 handguns, almost $5 million, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, and material to make IEDs.

The FBI‘s Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) is also a vital component of border security. The mission of the JTTF is to detect and investigate terrorists and terrorist groups and prevent them from carrying out terrorist acts directed against the United States. The JTTFs are units within the FBI’s field offices, and select Resident Agencies, that focus primarily on addressing terrorism threats and preventing terrorist incidents.

The JTTFs are operational units because they respond to terrorism leads and conduct terrorism investigations. The JTTFs also combine the resources and expertise of multiple agencies to collect and share counterterrorism intelligence. The JTTFs share classified and unclassified information with their Federal, State, and local partners. On July 31, 2006, DHS announced the Department of Justice will add 25 Assistant United States Attorneys to the five Federal law enforcement districts along the border. The 25 Assistant U.S. Attorneys will prosecute only immigration-related crimes including alien smuggling, entering the U.S. without inspection, illegal re-entry, possession of firearms as an alien, illegal employment of undocumented aliens, human trafficking and document fraud.

On October 4, 2006, the President signed the FY07 Homeland Security Appropriations bill. The bill provides $21.3 billion for border protection and immigration enforcement including 1,500 border patrol agents, 6,700 detention beds, and $1.2 billion for border fencing, vehicle barriers, technology, and tactical infrastructure. The bill provides:

  • $5.2 billion for the Secure Border Initiative
  • $2.27 billion for border patrol, adding 1,500 new Border Patrol agents, for a total of 14,800;
  • $1.2 billion for border fencing, vehicle barriers, technology and infrastructure;
  • $4.2 billion for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE);
  • $3.1 billion for the Coast Guard’s homeland security missions;
  • $1.38 billion for ICE custody operations, adding 6,700 detention beds, for a total of 27,500;
  • $28.2 million to assist State and local efforts to enforce immigration law;
  • $238 million for transportation and removal of undocumented aliens;
  • $600 million for Air and Marine Operations for border and airspace security;
  • $183 million for a total of 75 fugitive operations teams Nation-wide, an increase of 23;
  • $137 million for the Criminal Alien Program;
  • $44 million for Alternatives to Detention;
  • $362 million for the US-VISIT program; and
  • $135 million to support immigration verification systems.

The appropriations bill also includes provisions criminalizing the creation of tunnels to illegally cross U.S. borders. The Border Tunnel Prevention Act of 2006 enacts stiff penalties on those who use and construct tunnels, as well as those who allow them to be constructed on their property.

On September 29, 2006, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act of 2006. This Act provides 700 miles of two-layered reinforced fencing along the Southwest border with prioritized placement at critical, highly populated areas. The Act also provides border personnel with the authority and ability to disable fleeing vehicles, similar to the authority the Coast Guard currently possesses for vessels. The Act enhances border security through a “virtual fence” that deploys cameras, ground sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles and integrated surveillance technology, and an evaluation of the Northern border and determining what actions are needed to secure those areas.