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Militarizing the Border: Where Those Billions for More “Security” Will Go

| April 27, 2013

Feel-good architecture along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Wonderlane)

Feel-good architecture along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Wonderlane)

Federal spending on border security is at anall-time high—and it would get even higher under the Gang of Eight’s new plan. The Senate immigration proposal, released last week, would allocate $4.5 billion in the next five years to tighten control of U.S. borders.

The U.S. spent nearly $18 billion dollars on immigration enforcement agencies last fiscal year, more than all other law enforcement agencies combined.

Where would another $4.5 billion go? Here’s a closer look at what is being proposed, and how the government has spent (and often wasted) border money in recent years.

More border agents

The proposal calls for an additional 3,500 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers. In FY 2012, the department employed 21,790 officers, up 10 percent from 2008. The bill would also add an unspecified number of Border Patrol agents, whose ranks haveskyrocketed from just over 4,000 in 1993 to more than 21,000 today.

A 2011 investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting and the Los Angeles Times showed how hurried hiring by the border agency affected screening standards and led to an increase in corruption. From 2006 to 2011, the number of investigations of customs employees charged with fraud more than tripled. Since 2004, 147 agency employees have been charged with or convicted of corruption-related offenses.

More drones

The bill requires buying as many “unmanned aerial systems” (also known as drones) as needed to have 24/7 surveillance of the Southwest border. The U.S. has already purchased 10 border drones, which cost $18 million a piece and roughly $3,000 an hour to operate.

Many question whether the current border drones are worth the investment. According to a report from the Customs and Border Protection agency, drones led to 143 arrests and the recovery of 66,000 pounds of drugs in 2012. As news outlet Fronterascalculated, “that’s less than 3 percent of all drugs seized by border agents last year, and less than 0.04 percent of the 365,000 would-be illegal border crossers caught by agents.”

In May 2012, a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General found the U.S. didn’t have enough manpower or money to effectively operate the drones they already have. The department overshot its maintenance and operational budget by over $25 million. Drones had only flown for 30 percent of the time they were supposed to be in the air.

More fencing

Another $1.5 billion would be allocated to expand the 651 miles of fencing along the Southwest border. “I think what we would do if the bill passes,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a Senate hearing, “is go back and look at the type of fencing we have and say, ‘Do we want to make it triple what it is or taller?’ — or something of that sort.”

More phones and radios

Remote areas along the Southwest border can have spotty cell coverage, posing a risk to border guards in an emergency. A two-year grant would provide more funding for satellite phones and radios for border staff to contact 911, local police and federal agencies.

The bill doesn’t say anything about training guards to use the new devices. In November, we reported how DHS had spent $430 million on radios that only one surveyed employee knew how to use.

More money for local cops

Some of the new DHS funds would go toward Operation Stonegarden, a $46.6 million FEMA program benefiting local law enforcement in border states. “The funds that we are getting from Stonegarden are a godsend,” a county sheriff told the Arizona Daily Star in 2009. “I think we are able to provide a lot more security, a lot more visibility.”

But critics say there’s little oversight of how the money has been spent. The Star’s review of Arizona police records showed grant money was funnelled toward expensive technology and overtime pay for cops doing unrelated tasks, like crowd control at city parades.

More accountability?

As Congress considers adding billions more to the border budget, lawmakers are left with a key question: is it working? Some critics on the left say the added funding may be unnecessary, as studies suggest net migration from Mexico is now below zero. Many on the right say there still aren’t enough hard metrics to judge whether Homeland Security is doing a better job of keeping undocumented immigrants out.

DHS has pointed to the drop in the number of apprehensions as a sign U.S. borders are stronger now than ever before. But critics say it’s a flawed way of judging whether the billions spent on border security are worth it. That number could mean fewer undocumented immigrants are attempting to cross the border, or that fewer are being arrested. The struggling U.S. economy also plays a big role in the overall drop in unauthorized immigration.

Under the new proposal, high-risk sections of the Southern border must reach a “90 percent effectiveness rate” within five years. That would be the “number of apprehensions and turn backs” divided by “the total number of illegal entries.”

If border states don’t reach the 90 percent target, a group of border state governors (or their appointees) and federally-appointed security experts would step in to draft a new plan to boost effectiveness—on which the DHS can spend up to $2 billion more. The new bill would also create a presidentially-appointed DHS Task Force to regularly review border enforcement policies.

Increased surveillance should help border agents get a better count of the total number of undocumented immigrants crossing the border, said Doris Meissner of nonpartisan think-tank the Migration Policy Institute. According to Meissner, this is the first time immigration legislation has included a specific metric to gauge whether money spent on border protection is resulting in fewer unauthorized crossings.

“The overall expectation that so much money has been invested, the government has to do better in really laying out how it assesses its effectiveness,” she said.

–Christie Thompson, ProPublica

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15 Responses for “Militarizing the Border: Where Those Billions for More “Security” Will Go”

  1. Karma says:

    What joke this whole thing has become. There are areas of the border were we provide handrails to allow illegals in the country and borders where Mexican children cross daily to attend American schools. Not to mention there are more then just Mexicans crossing these borders.
    And why try to secure the border when we have a president who willingly lets them out of jail and even promotes the use of food stamps to illegals.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Electric fences, sniper towers with bullet-resistant glass (to prevent attacks from drug cartels), and a few thousand agents with AR-15s and shoot-to-kill authorization……..that should help reduce the number getting over the border and into the US!

  3. Magnolia says:

    For the past 30 years, Congress has refused to enforce our immigration laws. We either do a better job of securing the borders or we will be defending it militarily one day.

    Which would you prefer?

  4. Yellowstone says:

    Brilliant! This is what we pay these guys for? Seriously, military action?

    Back in the 60s the DoD came up with a similiar idea . . . Build a chain link fence separating North and South VNam. This design was to stop the infiltrators into the south.

    Guess what? It won’t work. You are trying stop a flood of immigrants who are desparate for jobs. They build mile long tunnels, fly in on planes, drift into the Keys on rafts, hide in the cargo in trucks..

    These folks want to live and work here – just like you or your ancesters did. Try and stop them!

    • Magnolia says:

      Yellowstone, Texas has reported incidents of Mexican soldiers crossing the Rio Grande into the United States at El Paso several times.

      What do you think they were doing?

      In case you haven’t noticed, people here are also desperate for jobs. JOBS, now there’s a word you don’t hear mentioned much by Congress and the Administration these days.

  5. Gia says:

    Shoot anybody crossing the fences, then you can bet they other will think twice about coming illegally. Now that should not cost billions of $$$.

  6. Foster Brooks says:

    The wall for the Canadian border is slated to go up beginning 03/2014.
    They will be using eco-friendly materials to make this the “reference wall” of the world.
    Interestingly, the Canadian government is footing the bill completely.
    For the first time armed Canadian soldiers will be equipped with S.C.A.R automatic rifles.
    Yes, the world is changing.

    The Mexican border wall will be constructed using wood from trees harvested in Putnam, Flagler, and Volusia counties. Mind you – these are nuisance pine trees that block sunlight from reaching more valuable tree species. Pines are the “roaches” of the tree world.
    Next time you see a log truck – honk your horn in support!

    I know that I am very excited about these developments! No more beaners liing off our
    hard work. Remember the epic album by Pink Floyd (The Wall)?
    We have our own wall to sing about now!

    Good day fellow patriots! God bless!

    “We don’t need no education
    We don’t need no thought control
    No dark sarcasm in the classroom
    Teachers leave the kids alone
    Hey, teacher, leave the kids alone !
    All in all it’s just another brick in the wall
    All in all you’re just another brick in the wall”

    –The Wall, Part 2, Pink Floyd -1979

  7. Clint says:

    War against Mexico is coming…AGAIN !!! Remember the Alamo !!!!!

  8. Liana G says:

    The biggest threat to the US society, contrary to all the rhetoric about illegal immigration, is DRUGS coming into America. America is the biggest consumer of illegal drugs and the stuff is high value in terms of the currency exchange rate. Those who think that this is only Mexico’s problem are extremely naive because the weapons supplied to the druglords are American made and have been traced to weapons confiscated by US law enforcement. Mexico supply the illegal drugs to the US consumers and the US supply the illegal weapons to Mexico drug kingpins. And as long as there is demand, dealers – drug and weapon – will continue to find means to supply their products. And the question that should be asked is how are these weapons ending up in the hands of Mexico’s drug dealers?

    Oftentimes, especially where greed, money and power are concerned, innocent and ordinary folks get forced into this life out of fear for their life and that of family members. The need/risk that motivates them can be similar to the risk/need that motivates many Americans to endanger their lives and that of their loved ones for the quick fix that this product provides. And its not always based on poverty becaue the coco plant is a valuable commodity in medicinal use: for stomach and headaches, etc, and a food staple to make sugar. As a fruit it is delicious and nutritious like most naturally grown non GMO plants. I grew up eating this fruit and knew nothing about it used to make cocaine and such until the internet.

    There is an article by Politico that exposed the background of many of these so called border security and ICE agents. The investigative article found that more than 70% of these agents have histories that should prevent them from being hired. Such as human trafficking, confession to committing murder/murders – unsolved, drug trafficking, sexual assault, civilian assault/murder in Iraq/Afghanistan…and the list of offenses goes on. But let’s ignore all the real issues and spend more money expanding border protection and hiring more of these folks to protect the border because they wouldn’t be inclined to fall under the influence of corruption continuing the flow of whatever lucrative business is going on.

  9. confidential says:

    Most aim at the wrong tree…as the terrorist attacking us since Pearl Harbor, World Trade Center, 9/11, Oklahoma Federal Building, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Boston, none came across the south or north borders. Most were domestic terrorist or refugees with assilum flying in with all expenses paid and force funded by us all. But no matter what the reality is the beats goes on against all that want to come legal or illegal across Mexico or now Canada borders.
    Stop blaming and undermining Latinos, for what they Do NOT DO.

  10. Sherry Epley says:

    Sounds like an attempt to “close the barn door after the horse has escaped”. Securing our Southern border should have happened 40 years ago. But then again, the wealthy would not have enjoyed the cheap (untaxed) labor source for their full time, year round gardners, house keepers and nannies. There is still this unspoken reason for the resistance to making all workers “legal” and tax paying. Bottom line, “I do not want to contribute to Social Security or pay minimum wage for my “household help”. Folks, you just can’t have it both says.

    You can’t have indentured (under the counter) servants, and expect them to stay that way and not put any strain on social services. . . no expectation of bettering their lot and needing to be educated, etc. etc.
    Ahhhh America’s dirty little “inhuman rights” secret. And then, on top of it all, we “hate” them for what we ourselves have created.

  11. Sherry Epley says:

    It seems way too easy to blame others for that “dark” side of ourselves. Consider the possibility that if:

    1. No one would pay BIG bucks for drugs- There would be no drug trade, and associated violence, etc.
    2. Farmers made enough $ to pay a living wage- US citizens could do the work of picking produce
    3. We did our own domestic chores- There not would be a need for those indentured servants
    4. Our business community was willing to hire a US citizen, instead of maximizing profits, illegal immigrants would not find easy employment here.

    We need to form a deeper understanding of “cause” and “effect”, and deal with the complex issue of illegal immigration at the root level. Unfortunately, we are probably too late to stem that tide, and no one is willing to look beyond “a quick fix”, in any case.

    I will say that it is sickening to read that some people think we should just shoot people who (often risk their lives to) cross our border to find a better life. How tragic that some people are so Twisted and full of their own personal pain, anger and hate that they would even consider such terrible, inhumane actions. Who are the truly uncivilized people in this scenero? It doesn’t seem that it is always people from other countries.

  12. Howard Duley says:

    Bounties of 1000 per dead border crossers would end the whole thing in an afternoon. Sooner or later when the working class have nothing because the scum has it all is when the doodoo will hit the fan.

    • Alfred E. Newman says:

      Would you offer a bonus for little mexican kids crossing the border?
      How about infants being carried in by their mothers?

      All this talk about how these people harm our society.
      Then there’s a person like you who wants people shot dead for a a grand each….

      What kind of person are you?

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