When President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office in January, his administration will face a long list of immediate needs and challenges. Among them are a series of pressing issues for securing the border. Here are five priorities for the new Trump administration to address in its first 100 days.
1. Build a Virtual Wall: While building a border wall was a hallmark of the President-elect’s campaign, it will require complex construction and budget allocation that will take years to achieve. The challenges along the border cannot wait, particularly when there are technological solutions available now. The notion of a virtual wall, composed of cameras, sensors and other technologies, has existed for some time, but for a variety of reasons, progress has been insufficient. The new administration should review existing technologies, such as fiber optic sensors and robust communications capabilities, to support the Border Patrol’s ongoing efforts to interdict illegal immigrants and illicit goods.
The administration also needs to speed up the timeline for implementing land port of entry (POE) entry/exit tracking technology. This has been a noted need for more than a decade, but even today, the United States has limited means to keep track of who is leaving the country across land POEs, which is essential for monitoring visa overstays. There are some pilot programs in the works, but more solutions are needed.
2. Support Mexican Law Enforcement Training: In 2007, Congress appropriated nearly $2.5 billion for the Mérida Initiative, designed to help Mexico reform its criminal justice system and border security capabilities. As of November 2015, $1.5 billion had been spent in training, equipment and technical assistance, but the Mérida Initiative strategy is now focused on economic development and community-based social programs. While improving Mexican society may have broad benefits for dissuading illegal migration to the United States, American tax dollars need to be focused on enhancing the training and effectiveness of Mexico’s control of its side of the border, as well as its southern border. To that end, the new administration should increase funding for training and equipment for Mexico state police and federal troops. This should be granted with clear metrics, plans for evaluation and audits of how funds are used. By this, the U.S. Border Patrol and state and local law enforcement can begin to realize the partnerships it needs to more effectively patrol and secure the border.
3. Halt the Flow of Narcotics: There is an epidemic of heroin use growing across the country, and it is particularly prevalent among younger people. The amount of heroin produced in Mexico rose 67 percent in 2015, which is up 170 percent since 2013. Drug cartels are fostering a plague of addiction and overdoses, and the Trump administration needs to immediately give Border Patrol the tools necessary to target narcotics trafficking and arrest smugglers between POEs.
As a part of this, the administration should make it a priority to enhance Customs and Border Protection (CBP) cargo pre-screening on both sides of the border. Using data and rigorous screening before cargo reaches the border through expanded risk-segmentation, CBP can reduce the volume of unknown cargo and enhance their ability to target vehicles and shipments potentially smuggling narcotics, guns, cash or people.
4. Enforce U.S. Law and Expedite Returns: The U.S. court system is already overwhelmed processing the status of people apprehended at the border. This is due in part to an increase in illegal arrivals from Central American countries. With adjudication sometimes lasting years, there is a perception that crossing the U.S. southern border is a ticket to living in the United States. The next administration needs to create an expedited legal process for returning illegal immigrants to their home country within one week of crossing the border. This will require increased funding to immigration courts to ensure fair but speedy processing and removal.
Meanwhile, the United States needs to enforce its immigration laws, something that was insufficiently achieved during the Obama administration. This does not require a vast deportation force, as floated during the 2016 presidential race. Instead, by simply enforcing the laws on the books, the United States can begin to address the issue of millions of illegal immigrants.
5. Work with the Private Sector: Border security is a multifaceted, highly complex endeavor. It is critical to choose the right leadership for government agencies involved in securing the southern border, and these leaders need to work hand-in-hand with the non-profit organizations and companies engaged on these issues on a daily basis. They hold insights and relationships that bring greater clarity and innovative solutions that can help the new administration select and implement technological infrastructure, empower border security agencies with the right tools, and cultivate cooperation with Mexican counterparts.
With a unified government, the new administration has enormous opportunity to make real progress in securing the border and addressing illegal immigration. But there’s no time to waste. American voters made clear in the 2016 election that border security needs to be a priority for the country, and the Trump administration can answer that call by taking these common sense steps as soon as the 45th president takes office.
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