U.S. Government Does Not Have ‘Effective Control’ of 1,081 Miles of the U.S.-Mexico Border, DHS Says

October 19, 2010 - 12:15 PM

Alan Bersin

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin

(CNSNews.com) The U.S. government does not have “effective control” of 1,081 miles of the 1,954-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) responsible for securing the border.

“Border miles under effective control” is a metric DHS uses in its annual performance reports to measure the performance of the Border Patrol.

As defined by DHS, a mile of the border is under the “effective control” of the U.S. government “when the appropriate mix of personnel, equipment, technology and tactical infrastructure has been deployed to reasonably ensure that when an attempted illegal entry is detected, the Border Patrol has the ability to identify, classify and respond to bring the attempted illegal entry to a satisfactory law enforcement resolution.”

Simply put, a border mile under “effective control” is a place on the border where the U.S. government can be reasonably expected to intercept an illegal crosser.

The Border Patrol, a division of CBP, is responsible for securing a total of 8,607 miles of the U.S. border. This includes all 1,954 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, approximately 4,000 miles of the U.S.-Canada border, plus sectors of coastline in the Gulf of Mexico, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

As of Sept. 30 (the end of fiscal year 2010), the Border Patrol had established “effective control” over 1,107 miles of the 8,607 miles it is responsible for securing, a CPB spokesperson told CNSNews.com on Monday.

Of these 1,107 miles that are now under “effective control,” 69 miles are on the U.S.-Canada border, 165 miles are in the coastal sectors covered by the Border Patrol, and 873 are on the U.S.-Mexico border.

That means the U.S. government does not have “effective control” over 1,081 miles of the 1,954-mile-long U.S.-Mexico border.

Still, there has been some improvement over the past year. DHS’s annual performance report said that by the end of fiscal year 2009 the Border Patrol had established “effective control” over only 939 miles of the 8,607 miles of U.S. border it is responsible for securing.

Of those 939 miles under “effective control,” a CBP spokesperson told CNSNews.com on Monday, 32 were on the U.S.-Canada border, 165 were in the coastal sectors, and 742 were on the U.S.-Mexico border.

That means that in the past year, the Border Patrol put an additional 37 miles of U.S.-Canada border under “effective control” and an additional 131 miles of U.S.-Mexico border under “effective control.”

In its most recent annual performance report, published on Feb. 1, 2010, DHS had set a goal of having only 939 border miles (out of 8,607) under effective control by the end of fiscal 2010 and then maintaining (not increasing) that number during fiscal 2011. As it turned out, DHS exceeded its 2010 goal by 168 total miles.

When asked what CBP’s new goal would be for border miles under effective control in fiscal 2011, a CBP spokesperson would not give a specific mile number, stating instead only that CBP will maintain or increase the number from 2010.

Meanwhile, with more than a thousand miles of the Mexican border not under “effective control,” CBP officials are downplaying the significance of the metric.

CNSNews.com asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin last Thursday when he expected to have the full U.S.-Mexico border under “effective control.”

“If you defined it by that characterization of a piece of real state, there are places on the border where it is not a useful characterization. And I have not seen, nor have I developed my own estimate about when using that tactical definition, when some, some final end state will, will occur,” Bersin responded.

“I don’t think that’s a useful way to look at the border as an exclusive lens. What we have to look at the border is in terms of, as I suggested, public safety for our communities, and the sense in which the border is being effectively managed,” he said.

Bersin went on to say that the “best way” to secure the border is to create a “legitimate labor market between the United States and Mexico,” which a CBP spokesperson later said meant a guest worker program.

“It’s about flows of people and securing the border by deterring and preventing illegal immigration,” Bersin said. “The best way to do that is to have a legitimate labor market between the United States and Mexico. Absent that, we will manage the flows and protect the American people in terms of both public safety and in terms of effectively managing the border.

“Absent comprehensive immigration reform, people will attempt to enter this country illegally drawn by the job market,” he added. “It is our job to stop them, and we will do our best to do that.”

CBP is “doing better than ever before” in securing the border, Bersin said, “but this is not about real state.”

CBP spokesperson Kelly Ivahnenko told CNSNews.com that miles under effective control “is not the sole manner in which we define – nor is it a comprehensive examination of – effective border management.”

“Effective control of the border was intended in the past as a tactical description used by local commanders, which was defined based on their local terrain, geographic challenges, and existing resources,” she also told CNSNews.com.

Focusing “solely on previously cited effective miles of border under control” skews “the bigger picture of the need for our agency to be responsive and agile. While that may not be as quantitative as miles under control, it does explain in a more comprehensive fashion the ever-changing environment and the need to apply the right mix of technology, infrastructure and personnel across the border based on unique aspects,” Ivahnenko said.

Those aspects include “smuggling trends/threats, operational intelligence, terrain, and geographic challenges and the ever-evolving border environment,” she said.   

“Our goal is to effectively manage risk by using targeting, information sharing and intelligence to segment the cargo or traveler that may pose a threat, which is a small fraction of the trillions in trade and millions of legitimate travelers who enter our country every day,” she said.