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Securing the United States and Mexico Border

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Security
Wordcount: 3762 words Published: 18th May 2020

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The purpose of this paper is to provide a comprehensive look into the efforts of Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, and United States Customs and border protection (CBP) to secure the border between the United States and Mexico. This study aims to focus on the efforts of Congress, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to secure the border between the United States and Mexico. The study will focus on barriers, technology, resourcing, and trained personnel. Throughout this study it will attempt to answer existing and future barrier construction, current and future technology needs, resourcing (or funding), and finally the need to ensure trained personnel are posted along the border. The debate over funding a border wall/physical barrier has continued since the election of President Donald Trump. To date, neither party has swayed from their side of the debate. Securing the U.S. and Mexico border is a daunting task that requires a whole of government approach.

Keywords:  border security, Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, Congress, funding, resources, technology, CBP training, barriers


 Over the last several decades border security has been at the forefront of discussions in the political arena, news media, and amongst private citizens. Recently, the light was cast even brighter on border security during the 2016 Presidential campaign as then candidate Donald Trump used the building of a wall on our southern border as campaign promise. This campaign promise has turned into a political storm of heated debates and failed negotiations with neither side swaying from their agenda. 

Border security has been a challenge for the United States for decades and remains a challenge today as witnessed in political channels. The United States invests billions of dollars annually with the majority of the funds dedicated to the United States – Mexico border. These investments have come in the form of physical barriers, technology consisting of sensor arrays, aerial platforms, maritime assets, and increases in the number border agents.

Other challenges along the border consist of various types of terrain which includes deserts, mountains, forest, and coastal areas. Much of the land along the ~2,000 mile southern border is owned by local ranchers and private citizens requiring DHS and CBP to coordinate with these entities to provide security along the border. This coordination is essential to gain access to the land and also provide the owners with the confidence that their land will be protected and a part of a secure border plan.

The researcher of this paper will analyze and address the importance of Congressional funding to build physical barriers across the southern border while incorporating new technologies and increased resources for an appropriate number of trained security personnel along the border.

Literature Review

 During the discovery phase of these research a thorough review of literature associated with border barriers, technology, resources, and training was conducted. The literature points to border barriers being both effective and not effective. The researcher decided to take the effective stance after reviewing the literature. Much research has been done on the types of barriers needed to appropriately secure the border. However, the researcher of this paper decided to take a neutral stance on types of barriers in lieu of analyzing the different types of barriers. Those trusted with the design and configuration of those barriers are more versed in what is needed.

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 The literature available for resourcing and funding these projects project both positive and negative opinion. However, the researcher of this paper chose to take the positive side. The literature shows that voting on funding measures lies along party lines and until those politicians charged with voting on a proposal to fund a comprehensive package look outside party lines with an unbiased opinion the measures will remain in stalemate.

 The literature available for border security technology in numerous. There are companies who are developing, researching, and building prototypes to aid in securing the border. Probably one of the most daunting tasks ahead is sifting through all of the new technology and determining what array of sensors, detection, and surveillance devices are best suited along the southern border.

 The literature available for training personnel was limited. However, the researcher was able to piece together training needs through the Border Patrol Academy. This academy is recognized as one of the best training centers for federal law enforcement.  The literature available states that funding is needed to acquire additional training resources to keep the Academy as the premier training center for federal law enforcement agencies.

 After conducting a review of the literature the researcher of this paper is confident in the assessment that Congress must approve a funding package that cover all entities charged with the daily mission of protecting the southern border. Reading through the literature shows that funding these entities will not only provide a multi-layered approach to security but, will also help to enable national security allowing every American citizen to feel safe and secure.

Methodology and Research Strategy

The researcher of this paper will use the qualitative research method. A listing of the agencies charged with border security will be provided throughout the research. Not only will the researcher list those agencies but, will provide a brief synopsis of the contributions those agencies provide in the mission to secure the border. The researcher will show the importance of securing the border and how it ties into national security. Additionally, data and photos will be provided for understanding of border barrier and technology used along the southern border. Following this data, the importance of border security and why Congress should fund a comprehensive border security package will be explained. Next, the researcher will describe what resources are needed and the importance of trained and ready agents deployed. Finally, the researcher will show some of the challenges that lie ahead in getting a funding package approved.

Analysis and Findings

 The United States meets a wide range of threats at the southern border, these threats range from terrorists who have intentions of inflicting damage to the United States and its citizens, to the smuggling of drugs, counterfeit goods, or illegal border crossers looking for a better life by living and working in the United States (Bach, 2005).

Border Barriers

 The barriers along the southern border of the United States and Mexico can be divided into two categories. The first category is pedestrian barriers whose function is to deter or prevent the illegal crossing of individuals on foot. The second category is vehicle barriers whose function is to deter or prevent vehicles from crossing the border.                               

The first physical barrier was erected in San Diego, California by the federal government (Brandys, Roy, Laurent, Nicholas, Knox, and Blair, 2018). This barrier was erected to reduce illegal crossing and drug smuggling in the area. The only barriers that existed prior to this federal government project were fencing to corral cattle by the landowners.

According to Brandys, Roy, Laurent, Nicholas, Knox, and Blair (2018) the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) mandated the construction of border fencing. The IIRIRA was enacted in by Congress in 1996. The IIRIRA lays out improvements of barriers at the border, in Section 102 of the law it states, “The Attorney General, in consultation with the Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization, shall take such actions as may be necessary to install additional physical barriers and roads (including the removal of obstacles to detection of illegal entrants) in the vicinity of the United States border to deter illegal crossings in areas of high illegal entry into the United States (IIRIRA, Sec 102(a), pg. 8).”

The Secure Fence Act of 2006, amended Section 102(b) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 by striking “NEAR SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA” and amended it to read, “In carrying out subsection (a), the Secretary of Homeland Security shall provide for at least 2 layers of reinforced fencing, the installation of additional physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors” (Secure Fence Act, Sec 3, (1)(2)(1)(A), 2006).

With the laws stating the need for additional fencing and technology it appears Congress is playing a waiting game to provide funding to secure the southern border. By securing the southern border with additional barriers improvement to national security will naturally occur. If Congress decides not to fund the additional construction it only a matter of time before terrorists and weapons of mass destruction find their way into cities throughout the United States. If one terrorist armed with a weapon of mass destruction crosses the border and is able to carry out an attack on a large city the implications could be grave. Not only will it cause massive casualties but, the citizens of the United States will lose faith in the government and wide spread panic could erupt. Securing the southern border is long overdue. Congress needs to fund a package now that will secure the border from terrorists, criminals, and drug smugglers.


 Securing and controlling our southern border is a federal government responsibility and one that should not be taken lightly (Bristow, 2017). Of course, securing and controlling the southern border is an expensive endeavor. CBP already has limited resources and must find creative ways to stretch out these resources. CBP funding is at a point were decisions must be made and infrastructure has to compete with other needs. Every dollar is valuable in supporting those charged with protecting the border, from staffing requirements, technology, and countless other expenses (Bristow, 2007).

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Several studies have been conducted to determine the cost of building a physical barrier. Two of these studies were conducted one by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the other by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who provide estimates to build the border wall along the entirety of the United States-Mexico border. The cost ranges from $21 billion to $40 billion (Brandys, Roy, Laurent, Nicholas, Knox, and Blaire, 2018). According to Brandys, Roy, Laurent, Nicholas, Knox, and Blaire (2018) there is speculation as to whether any expansion of the border wall will come to fruition. Even with this speculation President Trump has made it clear that a border wall is still one of his priority agenda items (Brandys, Roy, Laurent, Nicholas, Knox, and Blaire, 2018). While these estimated are astonishingly different Congress has yet to act on a funding bill for the construction of the border wall (Brandys, Roy, Laurent, Nicholas, Knox, and Blaire, 2018). Even without funding being secured the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) secured bids from six federal contractors to present eight prototypes for consideration (Brandys, Roy, Laurent, Nicholas, Knox, and Blaire, 2018).

 Funding is always an issue for government agencies. Congress must find creative ways to divert additional funding and resources to the agencies that protect the border. By not providing the appropriate funding levels for these agencies Congress is essentially handcuffing those on watch at the border.


Technology is a force multiplier for the agents charged with border security. By having overlapping coverage of systems that provide early warning coupled with appropriate physical barriers CBP can customize or plug-and-play border surveillance for a multitude of scenarios (Alkhathami, Alazzawi, and Elkateeb, 2015). Incorporating a mix of air-based, ground-based, detection (sensors), and surveillance (cameras) technology provides CBP with the early warning systems it requires to focus assets in strategic places along the southern border. The Department of Homeland Security has invested millions of dollars into new technology to add layers of security along the border. While this effort has been expensive it still does not cover the entire border area.

The IIRIRA lays out improvements of barrier equipment and technology at the border, in Section 103 of the law it states, “The Attorney General is authorized to acquire and use, for the purpose of detection, interdiction, and reduction of illegal immigration into the United States, any Federal equipment (including fixed wing aircraft, helicopters, four-wheel drive vehicles, sedans, night vision goggles, night vision scopes, and sensor units) determined available for transfer by any other agency of the Federal Government upon request of the Attorney General (IIRIRA, Sec 103, pg. 9).”

In 2006, Congress approved and placed into law the Secure Fence Act of 2006. The law was designed to establish operation control over the international land and maritime borders of the United States (Secure Fence Act, 2006). To understand the nexus of this law defining operational control means “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband (Secure Fence Act, Sec 2(b), 2006).”  This law also gives the Secretary of Homeland Security the ability take all actions determined appropriate to gain operational control. Section 2(a)(1) states the Secretary can perform, “systematic surveillance of the international land and maritime borders of the United States through more effective use of personnel and technology, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, satellites, radar coverage, and cameras (2006).”

The officers and agents that are deployed along the southern border should have the best technology available to have awareness of what is crossing the border. Some of these new technologies do have civil liberties concerns. Those citizens that live along the border are concerned with their privacy and inadvertent surveillance of their activities. Drones are of big concern to these residents because of their ability to fly along the border with real-time download of video to a control center. These citizens are concerned with their Fourth Amendment rights as it pertains to persistent surveillance around their residences.  If Congress will fund a comprehensive border security package additional assets can be deployed to cover the existing gaps. Without additional funding the border will remain porous in areas were coverage is lacking.

Trained Personnel

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has struggled recently to hire and maintain trained border agents. With the struggles CBP was able, for the first time in five years, to have a gain on trained agents. The problem stems from hiring, training, and deploying agents to operational areas and then agents quit the job. Some of this is from adverse conditions, physical demands, and family concerns.

Hiring new border agents is the first step; training the new agents is essential so have the skills and knowledge necessary to conduct their missions. CBP must train new agents in the skills needed prior to their deployment to the southern border. CBP has its own training facility located in Artesia, New Mexico and duly named the Border Patrol Academy (CBP BPA, 2019). The Academy is a 117 day program that focuses on United States law, Border Patrol operations, physical training, firearms instruction, driving, law enforcement and Border Patrol tactical training, and Spanish (CBP BPA, 2019). The Academy is recognized as one of the most challenging federal law enforcement curriculums (CBP BPA, 2019). 

CBP needs to ensure that all new agents receive adequate training and are ready to assume their role as border agent. Unfortunately, this cannot be accomplished without adequate funding. Congress needs to add to the border security funding package adequate resources to secure classrooms, dormitories, and improved weapons training ranges, state of the art fitness facilities, and training facilities that replicate, as close as possible, actual conditions along the border. Without this funding the Border Patrol Academy cannot meet its goal of providing ready and trained agents to the field.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Securing the southern border is a paramount task that should be at the forefront of every single American citizen. The current administration is making a formidable case on why it should be secured. If politicians will sit back and take an unbiased look at the illegal activities associated with a semi-open border they could see the problems caused by not securing the border. Yes, it is an expensive endeavor but, one that is owed to every citizen of the United States. By securing the border and following the laws in place for immigration the United States can select appropriate individuals for citizenship. By having this selection process a natural weeding out of potential violent individuals, gang members, and terrorists will occur.

As disclosed in the research several laws were passed to enable the construction of physical barriers along the border. Most of these barriers now lay in disrepair and need funding to bring them back to standard. Building of the barriers is only the first cost additional funding will be need for future repairs and upgrades.

Securing the border requires a whole of government approach that provides funding for barriers, technology, resources, and training for border agents (Wein, Liu, and Motskin, 2009). Without a funding bill the border will remain strong in places and porous in others. Providing this funding will allow DHS and CBP to make needed repairs, upgrades, new construction, new technology, and enhanced training for agents. 

After completing the research it is evident that the issue at hand is funding and resources. All American citizens should reach out to Congressmen and Senators and demand they go back to the drawing board and provide the citizens of this country with a partisan spending bill that provides funding and resources to those entities with the mission of securing the southern border. This spending bill needs to incorporate funding for new and existing barriers, new technology, and increased funding for training.

The researcher of this paper recommends that Congress fully fund a package that will secure the southern border and provide every American citizen with the confidence that the southern border is safe and secure. Instilling confidence in American citizens that our Nation is safe and secure will move the nation closer to providing the security they all deserve.

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