“This country has lost control of its borders. And no country can sustain that kind of position.“
Ronald Reagan, 1981
In Rome’s founding legend, the twin brothers Romulus and Remus debated over where to build a new city. Romulus selected the Palatine Hill, while Remus chose Aventine Hill. They could not agree, so Romulus built his own city. He immediately drew a line in the sand to define the new boundaries, and then when Remus mocked the border and jumped over the wall in a show of defiance, Romulus killed Remus uttering the words, “So perish every one that shall hereafter leap over my wall.”
The integrity of borders has been guarded since the beginning of civilization, leading to countless wars to protect ones’ nation. The situation on our border has not reached that point, but raises serious concerns about our sovereign and security.
Today, it is fashionable among some to say that this concern is outdated, and borders are meaningless and arbitrary. A recent academic book on the history of American border enforcement is entitled Imaginary Lines. Yet, reducing borders to just lines would undermine the very concept of the nation-state and national sovereignty. A nation is defined as a group of people who share a common territory and government. That territory is defined by borders. So without those “imaginary lines” there would be no nation.
Anthropology professor Glynn Custred explains, “Borders…have both instrumental and symbolic functions. The instrumental functions of international boundaries are to mark the place on the ground where one sovereignty ends and another begins. It is along these lines that a state has the legal right to exercise control over the movement of goods and people to and from the sovereign territory and whose violation by outside forces defines invasion.” The symbolic value of the border is “represented not just by a line on the ground but also in the collective minds of citizens, constituting an important element in the way people imagine the nation as a limited, sovereign community of citizens to which they belong.”
Accordingly, America’s unsecured southern border has both negative practical and symbolic effects. And there is no doubt that our border is unsecured. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), in 2011 only 44% of the southern border was under operational control, meaning the border patrol can ensure “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband.”
The practical effects are obvious. Of the 11-20 million illegal immigrants living in this country, half crossed over the porous southern border. This causes enormous social and fiscal costs to be accrued by this country.
These problems are exacerbated by Mexico’s violent drug war that has claimed the lives of well over 35,000 people by the Mexican government’s own estimate. In 2010 alone, 12 Mexican mayors were murdered. After the police chief and five other officers in the town of Ascensión were murdered, the entire police force resigned, leaving the town with no law and order. This violence has slowly crept over the U.S. border. Home invasions, kidnappings, and even murders are becoming more and more commonplace in American border states like Arizona, where Robert Krentz, a cattle rancher was murdered on March 27, 2010. According to Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, “Mexican drug cartels literally control parts of Arizona. They literally have scouts on the high points in the mountains and in the hills and they literally control movement. They have radios, they have optics, they have night-vision goggles as good as anything law enforcement has. This is going on here in Arizona. This is 60 miles from the border.” In the first five months of 2011 alone, there were five kidnappings, 22 murders and 15 shootings related to drug cartel violence in south Texas. If the situation in Mexico continues to deteriorate, the necessity to secure the border will become even stronger.
Our unsecured southern border also poses a serious national security risk. In May 2010, DHS issued warnings about members of the Somali Islamic Terrorist Group Al Shabaab. In 2010 alone, the Border Patrol apprehended hundreds of illegal aliens from Middle Eastern and terrorist supporting nations such as Afghanistan (9), Algeria (5), Egypt (10), Jordan (17), Iran (17), Lebanon (11), Somalia (9), Saudi Arabia (5), Yemen (11), and Sudan (5) attempting to enter the country through the Mexican border. In September 2010, Representative Sue Myrick, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, wrote in The Washington Times, “An indictment was handed down Aug. 30 by the Southern District Court of New York that shows a connection between Hezbollah – the proxy army of Iran and a designated terrorist organization – and the drug cartels that violently plague the U.S.-Mexico border.” Unless we secure this penetrable high risk border, the next terrorist attack on the United States may come through our southern border.
For these reasons, America has the moral right and duty to protect and defend its citizens and inhabitants by securing its border. Failure to do so undermines both the sovereignty and security of this nation.
Complete the Southern Border Fence: In 1996, construction began on a 14 mile long border fence between San Diego and Tijuana. There was a 10 and 15 foot welded metal fence separated by 150 feet of well lit and heavily patrolled “no man’s land,” with a chain link fence in between. While an illegal alien may be able to get over the first fence, the Border Patrol will be able to easily detect him before he reaches the other side. Illegal border crossings decreased by 95% after its passage. In 2006, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act to extend this border fence across the entire southern border. However, by 2011 only 32 miles of such fencing had been built. A double layered border fence, with electronic ground and fence sensors, should be completed across the entire southern border, regardless of cost.
Deploy the National Guard to the Border: As commander in chief, the President of the United States should immediately authorize border state governors to call up the National Guard to work with the Border Patrol to secure our southern border with Mexico, including all federal lands. Under political pressure, Presidents Bush and Obama slowly increased the number of agents. As of 2011, there are approximately 20,000 border patrol agents, 17,500 of whom patrol the southern border. If the border fence and other technological infrastructure were fully in place, this number would be sufficient. Until the border fence is completed, additional manpower is needed. Both Bush and Obama have periodically but temporarily deployed National Guard troops on the border. However their role has been limited to back up and they are even prohibited from carrying weapons. It makes no sense that we will send National Guard troops overseas to defend the borders of Iraq and Afghanistan, but do not trust them to defend our own border. A fully armed National Guard, along with the Border Patrol, should be bivouacked in forward operating bases along the southern border to take control of the high ground from the drug cartels to prevent penetration into U.S. territory. Support from electronic surveillance towers and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is essential. Illegals are interdicted long after they have crossed the border miles inside the U.S., risking the lives and property of American citizens living in the area, if they are apprehended at all. Border Patrol communications equipment should be upgraded, since cell phone reception is non-existent along many border areas. Border state governors should be authorized to fully deploy the National Guard until the border fence is complete and allow them to do their job.
Canadian Border Security: Between Alaska and the contiguous United States, we share over five thousand miles of border with Canada. Because of the enormous cost of a completely secure Canadian border combined with the fact that Canada has been a friendly country with a similar economy and culture, the borders have been largely undefended without major problems. It is worth noting that Canada is also a member of NATO, while our countries cooperate through the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), established in 1953. In contrast to Mexico, both Canadian citizens and military have respected our borders with few exceptions. In an attempt to avoid offending Mexico by securing our southern border, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said, “One of the things that we need to be sensitive to is the very real feelings among southern border states and in Mexico that if things are being done on the Mexican border, they should also be done on the Canadian border.” It is fool-hardy to misdirect our resources towards the northern border just to be “sensitive” to Mexico’s “feelings,” when Americans are dying on our southern border. There are over 100 times as many illegal immigrants coming from Mexico than from Canada, so it is only rational that we focus our attention, efforts and resources on securing the southern border. That being said, Canada’s lax asylum policies have created serious national security concerns for terrorists to enter the country through our northern border. While recognizing Canada’s sovereignty, America should work with the Canadian government to improve their screening process. Potential terrorists in Canada, is bad for both countries. It may be prudent to increase border technology and manpower along the northern border but this should not be done at the expense of fully securing the U.S. border with Mexico.
ON THE WEB
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection
- Borderland Beat: Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War
- STRATFOR: Polarization and Sustained Violence in Mexico’s Cartel War