Immigration Task Force
Border Security Assets JULY 2013 For most of U.S. history, little to no security existed along the southwest border with Mexico. This began to change after the United States enacted its first immigration quotas in the late 19th century. Irregular efforts to patrol the border began in 1904, and Congress officially established the Border Patrol in 1924. Early efforts focused mainly on unauthorized Chinese immigration and unlawful liquor smuggling. Over the following decades, a focus on unauthorized immigration from Mexico led to substantial increases in the U.S. presence along the southern border. The total number of border agents has more than doubled since 2002, and the extent of border fencing has more than quadrupled since 2005. Investments in surveillance technology also increased substantially in the past decade, including a new network of mobile surveillance systems and watch towers. Today, the United States maintains an unprecedented level of investment in border security, particularly along the southwest border. Border Patrol agents. The number of agents deployed on the southern border increased dramatically in the past decade. The Border Patrol had 450 agents when it was established in 1924, which increased to more than 1,400 by the end of World War II. In 2002, the total number of border patrol agents surpassed 10,000 for the first time. By 2012, the force had more than doubled to 21,394. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S.744) would require Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to increase the number of Border Patrol agents along the southwest border to 38,405 before unauthorized immigrants move from Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status.
Issue Brief: Border Security Assets | 1
Number of Agents (Thousands)
Figure 1. Border Patrol agents, FY1993-2012 and under S.744 40
35 30 25
15 10 5 0 1993
All Border Regions
Fencing and tactical infrastructure. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 authorized the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to construct at least 700 miles of fencing along the southwest border. In September 2007, 155 miles of fence were complete; by December 2008, 578 miles. Today, 651 miles of barriers are complete including 352 miles of pedestrian fencing. Tactical infrastructure such as stadium lighting also sits along the fence. S.744 would require the DHS secretary to certify that 700 miles of pedestrian fence exist before RPI immigrants could adjust to LPR status.
Figure 2. Miles of Southwest Border Fence, 2005â€“2013 and under S.744 650 651 651
Under S.744: 700
600 500 400
100 0 2005
Sources: AILA (2005), CBP (2007, 7/2008, 11/2008, 2012), GAO (2011), U.S. Senate (2013).
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Surveillance systems. Border Patrol’s network of ground-surveillance technology expanded significantly between 2005 and 2012, including three new types of mobilesurveillance systems. The Office of Air and Marine manages CBP’s aerial- and marinesurveillance assets with a staff of about 1,200 agents. Additionally, the 300 National Guard troops remaining from President Obama’s 2010 deployment focus on aerial surveillance.
Table 1. Surveillance assets in all border sectors, 2012 and prior years GROUND-BASED
Unattended ground sensors
Remote Video Surveillance Systems (daylight and infrared cameras)
Short & medium truck-mounted Mobile Vehicle Surveillance Systems
Long range truck-mounted Mobile Surveillance Systems
Hand-held portable medium range surveillance systems
Integrated Fixed Towers developed through SBInet
AERIAL AND MARINE
Flight hours Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Flight hours Marine vehicles Underway hours
Source: CRS (May 2013), CBP (December 2011).
Funding. Large increases in agents, fencing, and surveillance assets were paired with corresponding increases in funding. Border Patrol’s 2012 budget of $3.5 billion more than tripled its 2000 budget of $1.1 billion, and it exceeded 1990’s funding level by more than 13 times.
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Millions of Dollars
Figure 3. Border Patrol budget, 1990–2012 $4,000
$3,500 $3,000 $2,278
Operation Streamline. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), CBP has in recent years promoted “high-consequence” enforcement for apprehending wouldbe crossers at the southwestern border. The strategy attempts “to discourage repeat entries and disrupt migrant smuggling networks by imposing tougher penalties.” As part of this strategy, CBP has de-emphasized voluntary removals in favor of formal deportation and criminal charges. Voluntary removals were 77 percent of enforcement outcomes in 2005, but just 14 percent in 2012 (Figure 4). Key to this strategy is Operation Streamline, which aims to prosecute 100 percent of individuals apprehended in certain border sectors. Streamline began in the Del Rio Sector in December 2005 and expanded to four others by June 2008. In 2012, 45 percent of immigration-related prosecutions along the southwest border were processed through the program. Judicial and detention capacity limit Streamline’s ability to meet its 100 percent prosecution goal. For example, the Tucson Sector can currently handle only about 70 Streamline prosecutions per day; S.744 authorizes funding for up to 210 prosecutions per day through that sector (§ 1104).
Figure 4. Enforcement outcomes (in thousands), FY2005–2012
Source: CRS (direct reprint). Issue Brief: Border Security Assets | 4
Conclusions. Since the last round of comprehensive immigration reform proposals in the mid-2000s, the United States has substantially increased its investments in border security. Border agents have nearly doubled, fencing has more than quadrupled, surveillance technology is more widely deployed, and consequences for would-be crossers have increased. During that time, unauthorized immigration has fallen while the Border Patrol’s “effectiveness rate” has increased. However, the recession corresponded with the decline in unauthorized entries and a rise in effectiveness, making it difficult to know exactly how effective these investments have been. In today’s immigration reform debate, stakeholders present a wide range of perspectives on these border security increases. Some argue that the border is more secure than it has ever been, while others advocate further investments. Many believe that the border is overemphasized and that efforts to halt unauthorized immigration should place more focus on measures such as employment verification and entry/exit tracking. Ultimately, Congress will determine the adequacy of current border assets, as well as the border’s role in an overall strategy to control unauthorized immigration.
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Published on Jul 26, 2013
For most of U.S. history, little to no security existed along the southwest border with Mexico. Today, the U.S. maintains an unprecedented l...