Border Security Campaign, South Texas Style

In the aftermath of shutdowns and furloughs, Washington is buzzing with predictions about the next election cycle and how the effects of last month and the next two will have on midterm congressional races next year. There is one campaign, however, that is in full swing and it’s not your typical voter registration initiative; it’s a whole different engagement.

The South Texas Campaign (STC) is the first campaign the Border Patrol has initiated since it made public the U.S. Border Patrol 2012-2016 Strategy, which reflects a shift from a resource-based to a risk-based enforcement.

What we need to do is encourage Mexico to document visitors into that country so that that information could be shared with U.S. authorities the same way Canada is sharing entry information along the U.S. northern border.

- Nelson Balido

Headed by a “commander” from the Border Patrol, the STC is comprised of three Border Patrol sectors (Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and Del Rio); two Field Operations offices (Laredo, Houston); and multiple offices of Air and Marine branches, for a total of 180,000 square miles (600 miles of border and 300 costal miles). The entire initiative is designed to disrupt criminal networks and concentrate on the main actors in the South Texas area responsible for the majority of crime.

There is no question that South Texas is now the most highly trafficked corridor for drugs and humans, which is no surprise since the technologically advanced Integrated Fixed Towers went up in Southern Arizona three years ago to give Border Patrol there a bird’s eye view of that state’s border region. Despite some detractors (including Arizona’s former governor, the former Secretary of Homeland Security and the newly named president of the University of California system, Janet Napolitano), the cameras and sensors are working and the illegal traffic is shifting

In the case in South Texas, Border Patrol is putting plans into action. By working as a unified command with other agencies, Border Patrol can coordinate efforts to move assets where they are needed most to disrupt and degrade transnational organized crime.    

Last month I had an opportunity to visit with Border Patrol leadership to get a firsthand briefing. Though illegal apprehensions are at historic lows, illegal entries have risen by 16 percent year over a year. 

Of the 425,000 apprehensions on the entire southern border since October 2012, more than 245,000 took place in South Texas. Within the OTMs (a Border Patrol term for "other than Mexican") apprehensions, 95 percent were from Central and South America and 80 percent of them took place in South Texas.

Most troubling are the OTM numbers representing the 5 percent that emanate from other areas, such as East Asia and the Middle East. While no one has a definitive answer as to why the criminal organizations are picking South Texas as their primary area of operation, one can only imagine that it has been deemed the point of least resistance.    

Despite this increased engagement in South Texas, DHS is still very much behind in its mobile communication technology. The most basic item for law enforcement safety is to have good communications equipment to ensure that our agents in the field have the ability to communicate with their state and local counterparts. But there are reports of major connectivity gaps throughout the 180,000 square miles the initiative represents. In fact, some agents have no choice but to use their personal cell phones.  It’s no wonder: the largest concentration of 14-year old government radios is contained in this area.

The South Texas Campaign is focused at the point of illegal entry and breaking up criminal enterprises. What the campaign does not address, however, is the visa overstay issue that contributes to over half of illegal immigration in the country. There is much talk to the establishment of an exit system to track outgoing visitors, but that issue is a complicated one and catches flak from border communities in the south. What we need to do is encourage Mexico to document visitors into that country so that that information could be shared with U.S. authorities the same way Canada is sharing entry information along the U.S. northern border.

While we barely have last year’s presidential election in our rearview mirror, campaign season is right around the corner. Border Patrol’s South Texas Campaign is one border watchers can get behind as we strive to ensure that our border gets the attention it deserves, that the rest of the country learns that there is nearly one trillion dollars flowing over the northern and southern border each year and that there are millions of jobs that depend on a secure, functioning border.  In 2014, let’s vote for a balance between security and trade.

Nelson Balido is the managing principal at Balido and Associates, chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, and former member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.  Follow him on Twitter: @nelsonbalido

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