Nelson Balido: Confusion Reigns In Border Security Debate

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When we hear Congress call for securing our border, what exactly does that mean? What should it mean?

Cries from misinformed politicians for more security might poll well in some districts come election time, but the real issues about border security go beyond having more people on patrol or more surveillance equipment monitoring desolate areas. It’s about ensuring a process of reliable checks and balances is put in place.

Congress’ failure to understand trade and the business community’s failure to educate our elected officials that trade is an economic engine for North America (...) leaves a huge blind spot in U.S. policymaking.

— Nelson Balido

First, let’s look at the difference between Border Patrol agents, the guys in green, and Customs and Border Protection Officers, the guys in blue. They both serve very different functions.

The guys in green are primarily charged with the protection of our border in between our ports of entry. The guys in blue are charged with the protection of the ports themselves, the sprawling campuses where commercial trucks, private vehicles and pedestrians are all processed. These are general terms, but for the sake of argument, let us just focus on these two areas.

As a regular in our nation’s capital, I am unfortunately no longer surprised at how many members of Congress I speak to still do not know the difference between the two agencies or the difference in their functions.

Nine times out of 10, politicians’ outlandish ideas about border security stem from a misunderstanding about the two agencies’ distinct missions. Usually politicians are thinking about the green uniforms. God bless the guys in green for the outstanding job they do, but Congress cannot forget about the guys in blue.

So why the misunderstanding? The media and popular television shows have glorified the chase of illegal border crossers, the cartels and organized crime that resembles a modern day wild-west adventure. What media outlet wants to cover the flow of trade across our borders, or the way people, cars and trucks get inspected? Who wants to cover the nearly $1 trillion dollars that flows over our border each year?

Admittedly, those stories aren’t as fun as the latest drug bust or high-speed chase. But Congress’ failure to understand trade and the business community’s failure to educate our elected officials that trade is an economic engine for North America leading to millions of jobs for U.S. families leaves a huge blind spot in U.S. policymaking and is leaving jobs and tax revenue on the table.

So how does Congress determine what is needed to secure the border? How do we differentiate what works from what doesn’t?  In business, we’d establish a baseline, or a standard of data measurement that is used to determine the level of functionality of a process in its current state. The baseline outlines what existed before any potential solutions are put in motion.

This is where our problem lies. CBP, both in between the ports and at the ports, has little to no standard of measurement to determine efficiencies. How do you know what to improve when you don’t know where to begin?

So next time we hear for calls of achieving 90 percent operational control of the border, we should be asking what 90 percent looks like. Instead those calls should focus on putting some real metrics in place that gives Congress real tools to measure where resources are needed most in order to prevent taxpayers from throwing money at a perceived solution only to find out that, in the end, it made little difference.