Here is an excerpt from Elizabeth Aguilera's article in the San Diego Union-Tribune:
"Along the U.S.-Mexico border, fortification has reached an all-time peak... Given this unprecedented expansion in resources during the past decade, U.S. government officials said the southwest border is the tightest it has ever been. Skeptics and “border security first” supporters are convinced it is still not enough, while advocates for comprehensive immigration reform believe it is more than adequate and the nation should push forward on other issues... 'No one has described what a secure border looks like. We have no baseline and we have no target,' said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego. 'It’s a great example of a moving standard and for the last 20 years, that standard has been moving up with no targets in sight.'... The number of apprehensions fell 62 percent from 2005 through last year — to a total of 447,731 in 2010.... Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin said a good portion of people who try to cross the border illegally are detained. He cited a rate of 90 percent for the San Diego sector and nearly 100 percent for El Paso. But neither he nor his staff could explain how those rates are calculated... Bersin’s goal is to keep the number of illegal border crossers low enough, and to communicate that achievement to the public so border security no longer becomes fodder for political rhetoric." Link to Full Article
Analysis: What really concerns me about Commissioner Bersin's assessment of border security is that he seems to equate it to the number of illegal immigrants who are successfully apprehended and prevented from entering the US. While illegal immigration is a huge concern for many, I don't really care about immigrants who are looking or work in the US in the sense that I don't view them as a threat to national security. What I do have a problem with is the fact that not once did Bersin talk about apprehending drug traffickers or terrorists, or how DHS is doing such a great job of developing programs to separate them from the crowd of "regular" immigrants.
Granted, illegal immigrants attempting entry into the US usually have different ways of doing it than drug smugglers. The former often use coyotes and attempt to cross in rural areas between officials ports of entry, making their capture the responsibility of the Border Patrol and local law enforcement. Drug smugglers often use ports of entry and try to smuggle drugs in hidden compartments of vehicles. But more and more we're seeing drug smugglers bringing loads across the border by using tunnels, ultralight aircraft, boats and rafts, and hikers. This makes them the responsibility of CBP, Border Patrol, local law enforcement, the National Guard, and anyone else remotely involved in border security.
So which one seems to be the bigger problem, and/or the bigger concern? All those agencies have limited personnel and resources. Which problem should they be focusing on? I wholeheartedly agree with David Shirk in that no one can really clearly define what border security means, and that DHS has not established any benchmarks or targets for it. It's all well and good that we're seeing the lowest rates of illegal entry ever, but how exactly does that translate to better border security? I saw no mention of apprehension rates of drug smugglers or special interest aliens (immigrants from countries with ties to terrorism).
It's a telling sign to me that DHS says the number of illegal immigrants trying to come across the border is lower than it's ever been, yet we haven't seen a parallel decrease in drug smuggling activity. I'm not saying that we should ignore all border crossers who have nothing to do with drug smuggling, but there needs to be some sort of intelligent and focused approach to separating the two (or three, if you count potential terrorists) groups and assigning priorities. The immigration issue is highly complex and politically charged, and potential solutions extend well beyond the border, like the article says. The drug problem does too, but DHS and the federal government have chosen the strategy of interdiction as the best way to fight the drug war. If that's the way they want to keep going, then Bersin and Co. shouldn't worry so much about touting the reduced number of illegal immigrant apprehensions and focus more on how many drug smugglers and potential terrorists they're catching - or not catching.