Needless to say, Sylvia Longmire's Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren't Making Us Safer is remarkably topical … and reasonably up-to-date, having come out just a few months back (of course, the way things go with “current events” sorts of books, that's well before the current Ebola scare, so that level of border concern is only peripherally addressed here).
Ms. Longmire's bio reads like something out of the NCIS television franchise … except that she's a former Air Force Captain and Special Agent in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, who operated in numerous governmental agencies as an intelligence analyst since her medical retirement (for the effects of MS), and has recently been principal of Longmire Consulting … with special expertise on the Southern border, both via her many assignments dealing with Latin American intel, her Cuban-American background, and the research involved in developing her previous book, Cartel. Needless to say, she's neither an armchair security dilettante nor a kumbayah-singing hand-wringer on the subject of immigration.
Border Insecurity is certainly an “eye-opener” … there was all sorts of stuff that I had no idea about. First of all, much of the border is only sort of defined … with “defenses” that might make it difficult to drive a pickup truck through, but being only a minor inconvenience for those coming through on foot (and there being regular gaps where semitrailers could make it through). Sure, there are very visible portions of the border with serious walls, and all sorts of surveillance equipment, but these tend to only show up in the area of larger border towns, and soon peter out to rebar and chainlink.
The other element here is the naked brutality of the drug cartels. Much like non-commercial terrorist organizations, most of these groups are vicious, callous, and more than willing to commit atrocities just to make a point. The stories that are in here of these sorts of things (whole villages being rounded up, massacred, and their bodies put on display) are shocking. The cartels force numerous groups (even some from other parts of Latin America, trying to reach the US), to carry drugs across the borders, and if there is anything other than total cooperation, they're killed. And, if they're sent back across the border, they're killed … often by Mexican police working for the drug lords. One quote that Longmire offers up here is “Immigration judges are doing death penalty cases in traffic court settings.”
Recently, rules established to handle the cases of people from “places like Haiti, Guatemala, Romania, and Iraq” who have a “credible fear” leading to them requesting asylum, have been leveraged by Mexicans, and the rules for claiming this (understandably, in the context of the drug gangs' brutality) have totally back-logged the system:
Of course, there's no system for keeping masses of asylum-seekers while they wait for their court date and, according to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement organization, “between 600,000 and 800,000 illegal immigrants fail to show up for their hearings every year”.Any time that an immigrant does this, whether it's at a port of entry with a CBP agent or in the middle of the Arizona desert with a Border Patrol agent, everything has to come to a halt. By law, CBP and Border Patrol have to conduct a “credible fear” interview of the immigrant, meaning that they have to determine exactly why they're afraid to return to their home country. This process also ensures that, if the immigrant's story meets the credible fear threshold, he or she will have his or her day in court before an immigration judge.
One of the more disturbing bits here is how Islamic terrorists are shipping their agents to places in Latin America, where they're given a chance to learn enough Spanish and cultural patterns, and then come across with other illegals. There's 2,000 miles of border between the US and Mexico, and well less than half of that has even been addressed with modern systems.
Speaking of “modern systems”, it is horrifying how much money has been poured into border initiatives with so little effect. Much like anything the government does, as soon as a budget is approved, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of quick-buck seekers lining up at the trough. Too often these groups have figured out a minimum compliance to the specifications of the new program, and cobble together enough off-the-shelf materials to look to government examiners that they're just a few hundred grand away from going into full production. There are numerous examples of these sorts of “ghost deals” where the money was spent for inefficient or purely illusory “solutions”.
Of course, the 800lb gorilla here is that the Mexican government is often complicit in both the drug and the terror trade … or, if not complicit, at least “looking the other way” when convenient to the cartels and Islamists. Obviously, this is NOT a subject that certain portions of our government wants to admit exists … although there are some waking up to it. Longmire notes in her conclusion:
There is also a chapter in here addressing the issues of the Canadian border, but that's evidently not the author's area of expertise, and, to a large extent is a different situation in several key factors. At present it appears that the threat of Islamic terrorists getting into the US is more substantial via the Northern border, as there are significant enclaves of various Muslim groups throughout Canada's major cities. Also, there is a drug trade, involving biker gangs and Asian cartels, but nothing near the volume or viciousness of the Mexican border.Out of terrorists, drug traffickers, and illegal immigrants, the last group is the only one that poses no threat to our national security, and coincidentally is the easiest one to manage through legislation alone. Finding a way to convert illegal immigration from an enforcement issue to a policy issue is critical to improving border security across the United States. … Imagine a situation where migrants wishing to work in the United States could go through a standardized and streamlined process of applying for a guest worker visa (or similar temporary program) and go through all the background checks in their home countries. Or a situation where millions of immigrants who overstayed their visas and have been living here illegally for years can affirmatively apply for cancellation of removal and start paying taxes. … with significantly reduced numbers of economic migrants crossing our borders, DHS could prioritize threats and refocus its limited resources toward detecting and apprehending violent criminals and terrorists.
Border Insecurity is a fascinating, very scary, and quite frustrating read which puts a lot of things into context, but really doesn't (can't?) offer up a lot of solutions aside from the idea that “economic migration” needs to be decoupled from the “drugs & terror” elements, and dealt with in a way that's advantageous to both the US economy and the the aspirations of the migrants. Although this has only been out a half a year, much of the “news” has raced past what's in this, but it provides a solid look at aspects of a major problem, throwing light on aspects which most folks haven't encountered.