Border Security Is Not Just More Fences and Technology

Manager of Policy and Advocacy

May 13, 2015

Today the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee is holding another hearing on border security. This one is focused on “Fencing, Infrastructure and Technology Force Multipliers.”

When examining the situation at the border, it’s important to look at where we have been and where we are now. (For more detail, read the statement for the record the Forum submitted for the hearing.)

  • In 2000, 8,619 Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents were stationed on the southwest border; today there are more than 18,000.
  • In 2000 there were less than 80 miles of fencing, today there are 651 miles of fencing. The fence now covers almost the entire length of the border from California to Texas, and many areas have double fencing.
  • CBP relies heavily on technology in order to secure the United States’ borders and ports of entry. It now has 273 remote video surveillance systems with day and night cameras deployed on the southwest border; in 2000 there were only 140. In addition, the agency relies on nearly 12,000 underground sensors, 40 mobile surveillance systems and 178 mobile video surveillance systems, none of which CBP had in 2000. CBP also has sent thermal imaging systems, radiation portal monitors and license plate readers to the southwest border.
  • CBP currently operates more than 100 aircraft — more than double the number in 2000 — and 11 Predator B unmanned aerial vehicle providing surveillance coverage of the southwest border across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. CBP also employs 84 marine vessels.

All of the additional fencing, infrastructure, technology and boots on the ground are record levels for CBP. That is why, before any additional investments are made in infrastructure, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needs to adopt transparent metrics to measure border security.

The current discussion around border security centers on “input” measures such as how many miles of fencing have been built, how many drones are flying or how many boots on the ground we have. But these do not truly measure border security. DHS needs to move away from these measures and focus on “output” measures that actually assess achievements and progress.

DHS actually has some of these metrics, but they are not publicly available. The lack of consistent metrics has contributed greatly to the public’s lack of clarity surrounding our nation’s border security. It also has made it difficult for members of Congress to hold the agency accountable and to know what additional resources are actually necessary in order to secure our borders.

Our country needs effective enforcement that is humane and transparent and that takes into account the impact on the 15 million people who live along our borders. Given the stepped up border security in recent years, the greatest return on investment now would be for Congress to pass broad immigration reform. Heads of border agencies under both Republican and Democratic administrations have stated that the best way to improve border security is to fix the immigration system by providing legal avenues for workers to enter the United States when needed and allow families to reunify.