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Border Security

Effective Ways to Measure the Efficacy of Border Patrols

According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): "protecting our borders from the illegal movement of weapons, drugs, contraband, and people, while promoting lawful entry and exit, is essential to homeland security, economic prosperity, and national sovereignty… Through increases in Border Patrol staffing; construction of new infrastructure and fencing; use of advanced technology -- including sensors, radar, and aerial assets -- investments to modernize the ports of entry; and stronger partnerships and information sharing, we are creating a safer, more secure, and more efficient border environment" (Border security overview, 2013, DHS). However, some outside analysts have called into question the DHS claim that it has made substantive improvements to limiting access to the nation's borders to authorized persons alone. There remains considerable debate as to how best to measure the efficacy of border security.

This paper will examine different dimensions of measuring border security efficacy, including predictive risk management. Understanding how to measure success rates is relevant because unless it is determined how best to measure efficacy, it is almost impossible to suggest new measures to improve policing of the border. Ultimately it will be suggested that current methods are lacking and rather than investing additional funds into the current infrastructure, a more effective methodology of assessing current patrolling is needed, particularly in the face of scarce financial resources. At present, it is very difficult to draw a definitive conclusion as to which methodologies are effective and ineffective, due to the multiple factors that could affect the results of current data. These include economic factors which motivate migration and the vigilance of border security agents regarding specific groups. The paucity of good data continues to frustrate lawmakers and the public, given the scarcity of current available resources designed to enforce border control policy.


"DHS's border security mission includes its efforts to prevent the entry of unauthorized migrants, combat criminal networks that smuggle drugs and other contraband, and identify and interdict potential terrorists at America's borders" (Rosenblum et al. 2013: 4). The current framework of risk management used by the DHS is problematic in the manner in which the federal agency has assessed the present state of border security. Other contingent circumstances must be evaluated more holistically for a full picture of the needs of border security and the influx of undocumented persons over the nations' borders.


Border security is currently measured according to the number of apprehensions successfully made by the DHS. To measure efficacy, the "Department of Homeland Security has been working on its Border Condition Index (BCI). The index -- which is meant to evaluate the state of border security -- will examine data and trends, both quantitatively and qualitatively" (Tadjdeh 2013). The number of DHS agents patrolling the border has doubled since 2004 and apprehensions are down 78% since 2000 and by 50% since 2008, indicating, according to the DHS, that security has improved (Tadjdeh 2013). Additional agent patrolling is assumed to have a deterrent effect.

Critics contend, however, that apprehensions may be down because of less effective patrolling, not because of the increased number of agents has been patrolling the border or because of improved detection methods (Tadjdeh 2013). The presence of border guards, after all, was not a deterrent to migrants before, who often braved extremely dangerous conditions in the hopes of crossing the border. The DHS supports claim of success with the evidence that technological surveillance has vastly improved, in addition to the increased number of agents, thus suggesting a lower number of apprehensions is negatively associated with these additional control measures. Security technology has fundamentally changed, hence the enhanced efficacy in monitoring.

Qualitative vs. quantitative approach

A review of the existing literature yields the finding that the DHS deploys a quantitative risk management framework to assess likely problems with border security, using "probabilistic risk models as a framework for analyzing and describing different types of potential threats. Risk management and risk assessment procedures are rooted in economic theories of consumer behavior and formal models of decision-making that are used in a wide range of industrial, environmental, business, legal, and other settings" (Rosenblum et al. 2013: 11). Different risk management approaches are used for each facet of the DHS program. For example, "every traveler, vehicle, and cargo container is assigned a risk score based on a variety of threat scenarios to identify potential terrorist and criminal threats" and when an individual is flagged as high risk, they will be automatically searched at the point of border entry (Rosenblum et al. 2013: 11). "DHS also has worked with the intelligence community, other federal agencies, and academia to develop formal, quantitative models to assess the risks of possible terrorist attacks using chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) weapons" (Rosenblum et al. 2013: 12).

However, there is some controversy about using risk assessment models. First of all there are questions as to whether the DHS can describe and accurately assess the full range of threats, given that some may be unknown since "terrorists, criminals, and unauthorized migrants, who may change their behavior in response to U.S. defenses, making likelihood even more difficult to predict. In addition, whereas traditional risk models are designed primarily to measure economic and physical consequences of certain events, the consequences of border threats may affect American society in much more complex ways; and the evaluation of such consequences is likewise more complex" (Rosenblum et al. 2013: 19). Many terrorist threats by their nature are unpredictable and cannot be analogized to a natural disaster. Using likelihood based upon past or historical frequency is problematic for what is an inherently volatile situation: past historical events may not repeat themselves and this ignores the influence of extraordinary one-time events. Even assessing events based upon expected frequency (environmental scanning and past history) means imposing a 'cookie cutter' expectancy profile upon a volatile human element. This is particularly true in regards to human behaviors, which can be motivated by a variety of economic and cultural factors that may make migration seem more or less desirable.

It is also an open question if a truly safe border is possible to achieve, given that human migrants can more easily change patterns of behavior than, for example, natural disasters and individuals may even be more flexible in their behaviors than organized threat groups. "The Secure Fence Act (P.L. 109-367) defines operational control of the border to mean zero illegal inflows yet many analysts doubt that an open country in a globalized economy can ever achieve a 100% interdiction rate -- and some question whether such a standard is even worth aspiring to," particularly given the present scarcity of federal funding (Rosenblum 2013: 28). And, in fact, some immigrants' rights groups suggest that illegal immigration has not had a deleterious effect upon the U.S. economy or security as a whole, given that migrants usually come for economic reasons and take jobs that other Americans are unwilling to assume.

Current debates

Currently, in public debates on the subject of border security, there is a constant 'back and forth' between different groups about the need to acknowledge the contribution made by long-standing undocumented workers to the U.S. (some of whom have paid taxes on their earnings) and to create a secure border. "The Senate passed a bill last month that would allow the nation's 11 million unauthorized immigrants to get temporary legal status as the federal government rolls out a $46 billion 'border surge' strategy that floods the region with Border Patrol agents, drones, helicopters and surveillance technology. Ten years later, if the border security plan is fully implemented, those immigrants could then begin applying for green cards, and U.S. citizenship three years later" (Gomez 2013).

In short, there is currently being negotiated a 'quid pro quo' arrangement between advocates of amnesty in the Congress and advocates of more zealous security -- some are arguing that there is a need for greater liberalization of existing policy, given the contribution immigrants (even illegal ones) make to the economy, while others are arguing that more stringent methods of control are needed. In exchange for granting temporary legal status, more manpower for the DHS is being commandeered. The current exchange being proposed is one of amnesty for tighter controls, allowing existing immigrants to remain with the U.S. while creating more preventative barriers to further immigration.

However, this political compromise is contentious on both sides of the aisle. Many immigration advocates believe that a militarized solution to protecting the border does not address the real problems of why illegal immigration occurs in the first place. Furthermore, even some Republicans are questioning the tremendous financial investment this would require. "Some security-conscious Republicans, like Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, say they view the 20,000 new Border Patrol agents called for in the Senate bill as excessive. He also says the bill, which includes an itemized list of hundreds of pieces of surveillance equipment that will go to each of the nine border sectors, dictates too much to the…[continue]

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