What Makes a Border Secure? Building a Healthier Border Dialogue

By Danilo Zak

While the border has dominated immigration policy conversations over much of the past two decades, the failure to agree to the use of clear and usable definitions and metrics has been an ongoing theme. Despite recurring and often contentious debates over border policy, there have been relatively few attempts by either lawmakers or administrations to create a functional definition of “border security” or to orient border policy and funding around achievable, data-driven targets.

In 2011, researchers Edward Alden and Bryan Roberts wrote that “the Department of Homeland Security has never clearly defined what border security means in practice.” More than a decade later, the statement holds true.

The vagueness which characterizes our nation’s border discourse has not slowed a massive appropriation of resources to attempt to secure the border. The U.S. currently spends more money on border security and immigration enforcement than on all other federal law enforcement agencies combined — and the gap is widening. But because multiple administrations have not paired investment with clear and timely outcome reporting, it has been an ongoing struggle to demonstrate how security challenges are actually being addressed on the ground.

This paper creates an actionable border security framework based on the best and most appropriate available metrics and data. It surveys previous and ongoing attempts to describe and quantify border security, and it proposes a series of policy recommendations to create a healthier dialogue around securing our border, including an expanded role for the DHS Office of Immigration Statistics and the creation and publication of new border metrics.

You can read the full paper here.

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