Sunday, October 31, 2010

$7M set for border habitat work

Arizona Daily Star
October 31, 2010
by Tony Davis

Federal money for jaguars and bats - or people?

That's the question ranching advocates raised after the federal government announced details for spending nearly $7 million to restore borderlands damaged by construction of the border fence.

From environmentalists and a public preserve manager came this answer: The feds have spent billions on border fences real and virtual, and it's about time to spend tens of millions protecting animals and plants.

In the next few years, authorities will spend the money to develop jaguar management plans, scan remote camera photos for the cats, close dirt roads and restore wetlands along the border. They'll reseed worn soils, monitor fish populations, build a fish barrier, count bat roosts and study bat movements, and plant agaves.

These actions are in the first leg of a $52 million federal program designed to compensate for damage to endangered species habitat on public lands by the border fence and other security measures.

Land managers and environmentalists called the money a good start, but some borderlands ranchers and their spokesmen in the Arizona Cattlemen's Association were less receptive. The association issued a news release titled "Jaguar Receives Green Card," saying the money should protect people first.

Six months after the still-unsolved slaying of Cochise County rancher Robert Krentz, "ranchers and residents south of Interstates 10 and 8 continue to live in a lawless region controlled by drug cartels," the release said. "These drug cartels continue to disrupt everyday life for rural residents along Southern Arizona's border. Yet ranchers are not receiving funds to restore our habitat, nor is the Administration working to restore our border. . . . We have a serious situation on our southern border, and ranchers continue to see the degradation of their environment and traffic from drug cartels."

Federal money for the wildlands will address impacts of a border fence built with no environmental reviews, countered Organ Pipe National Monument Superintendent Lee Baiza. As for competition with border security, Baiza said the $50 million is a small amount compared to $600 million Congress agreed in August to spend on Border Patrol agents, customs inspectors and other law enforcement officials, as well as communications equipment and unmanned aerial "drones" to monitor border activities.

The $6.8 million will pay for eight Southwestern projects, six in Arizona. A list of 29 projects identified as feasible for the entire $52 million includes 17 Arizona projects estimated to cost $14.3 million.

The projects are "an absolute joke" because they don't address non-endangered species such as mountain lion, deer and javelina that live in his area but can't get over the border wall, complained rancher John Ladd, who lives near the border wall near the San Pedro River. There's no jaguar or ocelots in that area - but they do exist in areas east of Douglas and west of Sasabe where there is no wall, he said.

"My family has been here since 1896, but we were willing to accept the consequences of the wall if the government had stopped illegal immigration. They haven't done it," Ladd said. "They won't patrol the border, and they can't get Congress to reform the immigration law."

Ladd has a point in that these projects won't help mountain lions get across the wall, said Matt Clark of Defenders of Wildlife in Tucson. But much of the new money will be spent where the Fish and Wildlife Service thinks it can get the most endangered-species conservation for the money, he said.

"The service is not looking at where we can make the border wall better. They are looking at where we can make an investment that furthers the conservation of these species," Clark said. "If you were to calculate the acreages lost to the border wall and roads on private and public lands, then you would be looking at well over $50 million to mitigate it. This is a down payment."

Reese Woodling, a retired rancher near Douglas who still sits on the governing board of the Malpais Borderlands ranching group, said he sees the jaguar monitoring as pointless because with no female jaguars seen in Southern Arizona for decades, he doubts the animal can survive as a viable population here anymore.

"They are just throwing money at these programs," said Wendy Glenn, a rancher in the Malpais Borderlands area east of Douglas. "It's a tough call for me to criticize them, but I don't know how they can spend so much on this when so many other things are needed."

Interior Department Assistant Secretary Rhea Suh, however, called the programs a first step toward meeting the government's responsibility to compensate for the impact on wildlife from the continuing effort to secure the border.

This debate could continue if more types of restoration projects come on line, as is hinted at by the agreement between Interior and DHS. It lays out five other classes of natural resources that could get restoration work beyond the $52 million: for non-endangered wildlife, wetlands and riverfront area, soils and cultural resources, including Native American human remains.

But a cautionary note about the restoration plans also came from another federal document on the Organ Pipe project. It said that unsafe conditions on the borderlands may prevent people from working in the area where most of the restoration work is needed.

On StarNet: Find extensive coverage of immigration issues at

Areas where the wildlands-Restoration funding will be spent

Six initial projects are in Arizona:

• $2.1 million to survey and monitor jaguars for four years, develop a jaguar management plan, fence and restore jaguar habitat and work with ranchers, government and local communities to develop a system to report on jaguars.

• $1.9 million to protect, inventory and monitor endangered lesser long-nosed bat and Mexican long-nosed bat roosts. This involves finding roosts along fence segments from the Patagonia to the Huachuca Mountains and from the Perilla to Peloncillo mountains. It also involves radio-tracking bats in these areas to help find the roosts and to determine how much roads, fences, lights and other facilities act as barriers for bats.

• $980,000 to restore 84 acres damaged by construction of 5.2 miles of fence near Lukeville. This involves closing roads and allowing vegetation to regrow, replanting 200 large transplanted saguaro and organ pipe cacti, seed collecting and propagation, road decompaction, erosion control, planting and invasive species control.

• $657,000 to restore 49.7 acres at the San Bernardino National Wildlife refuge, east of Douglas. It will compensate for the loss of 16 miles of habitat and about 116 acres of roadbed for border fencing and other security measures.

• $441,250 to study four federally protected Rio Yaqui fish species and four sensitive fish species living in that refuge. The work includes an inventory of the fish and an accounting of impacts from unpaved roads, disturbed soils and soil erosion. A shallow well will be drilled to ensure permanent water for a wetland for the fish and the imperiled San Bernardino Springsnail. A fish barrier will be installed to keep exotic fish out of the refuge.

• $274,873 to plant 6,344 agaves at Coronado National Memorial to compensate for removal of 3,172 agaves for fence construction.

Government tells group to remove political messages from small flags placed on border fence

Associated Press / Los Angeles Times
October 30, 2010

SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. (AP) — The U.S. Border Patrol is requiring a private volunteer border watch group to remove political messages attached to thousands of small flags placed on the U.S.-Mexican border fence in Cochise County.

About 16,000 flags and five banners were attached to the fence by members of the American Border Patrol group in early July to urge the government to finish building 700 miles of double fencing.

The banners vanished days later.

Border Patrol spokeswoman Colleen Agle tells the Sierra Vista Herald that messages or banners can't be placed on federal property without prior approval or authorization.

She says that the group didn't have that permission.,0,5971080.story

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Border 101

Arizona Daily Star
October 24, 2010
by Brady McCombs

From congressional races to the gubernatorial showdown, border issues have taken center stage in many campaigns this election season.

If you are dizzy from all the talk and rhetoric, you're not alone. So today, we sort out some of the most popular election-season facts, myths and half-truths:

Is the border more dangerous than ever?

Answer: For people illegally crossing it, yes. For people living near it in Mexico, probably. For people living on the U.S. side of the border, probably not.

Some will vehemently disagree with that last statement, pointing to the March killing of Cochise County rancher Robert Krentz and an increase in burglaries in the Portal area as evidence that the level of danger on the U.S. side of the border has increased. But while Cochise County investigators say they tracked footprints back to Mexico, the Krentz crime is unsolved.

The FBI's uniform crime reports show violent crime is no more prevalent in border cities than in nonborder cities.

Since 2001, the average violent-crime rate in eight border cities declined, and it has remained below the national violent-crime rate since 2005, said an August 2010 report by the Congressional Research Center, which reviewed FBI crime reports from 1998 to 2008.

In Tucson and Phoenix - the two largest cities on the smuggling route through Arizona - murder and violent crime decreased from 2005 to 2009, FBI data show.

The ratio of assaults on Border Patrol agents dipped 36 percent across the Southwest border from 2007 to 2010. But that ratio increased by 70 percent in the Tucson Sector over the same period. Most of the reported assaults are when rocks are thrown at agents.

The danger of crossing the border illegally has increased, though. Illegal immigrants are dying at greater rates than ever in Arizona, likely because the border buildup has prompted smugglers to lead crossers into more remote and dangerous areas.

The 252 illegal border crossers found dead along Arizona's stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border excluding Yuma in fiscal 2010 broke the previous record of 234, set in 2007.

Is Arizona the epicenter for illegal immigration?

Answer: Yes and no.

Arizona's stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border is the busiest for illegal immigration, drug smuggling and border deaths, accounting for more than half of all arrests and marijuana seizures. But the state is more of a transit point than a destination.

The estimate of 375,000 illegal immigrants living in Arizona puts the state eighth in the U.S. behind California, Texas, Florida, New York, Illinois, New Jersey and Georgia, a September report from the Pew Hispanic Center found.

And the number of illegal immigrants living in Arizona dropped from an estimated 475,000 in 2008, the Pew report found.

But Arizona has thrust itself into the national spotlight on this issue due to the numerous immigration-enforcement laws passed by the state, including SB 1070.

Has the federal government really done nothing to secure the border?

Answer: You can question the effectiveness of the billions spent, but there's no denying the massive buildup of border enforcement over the last five to 10 years:

• The budget for Customs and Border Protection - the Department of Homeland Security agency responsible for border security - soared to $11.4 billion in fiscal 2010, up 90 percent from $6 billion in fiscal year 2004. That's nearly twice the growth of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) budget, which increased 54 percent to $5.7 billion in fiscal 2010, up from $3.7 billion in 2004. ICE is responsible for immigration enforcement at worksites and across the interior of the country.

• The number of Border Patrol agents on the U.S.-Mexico border has increased to 17,500, up from 9,700 in 2004. The Tucson Sector, which stretches from New Mexico to Yuma County, now has 3,300 agents, up from 2,100 in 2004 and 1,500 in 2000.

• The miles of fencing along the border have grown exponentially. There are now 350 miles of pedestrian fence and 299 miles of vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, for a total of 649 miles of barriers. That's up from 143 miles of barriers in 2006.

The Tucson Sector has 71 miles of pedestrian fences and 139 miles of vehicle barriers. In 2000, it had 11 miles of pedestrian fences and two miles of vehicle barriers.

Pedestrian fences are 12- to 18-foot-high barriers designed to stop, or at least slow down, people. Vehicle barriers are waist- to chest-high and are designed to stop cars.

• The agency has spent more than $1 billion since 2006 developing the SBInet "virtual fence," which tracks movement using a network of towers mounted with cameras, sensors and radar. But the program has been plagued by delays and glitches.

• In the past five years, the feds have twice sent the National Guard to the border to assist the Border Patrol. In Operation Jump Start, from 2006 to 2008, the government spent $1.2 billion to send 6,000 National Guard troops. In the current Operation Copper Cactus, the government is spending $135 million to send 1,200 troops.

• Homeland Security has devoted $225 million to border law enforcement agencies through Operation Stonegarden, including about $51 million to Arizona agencies. The program gives agencies money to pay officers who work overtime shifts aimed at securing the border. The money also buys four-wheel-drive trucks, radios and night-vision goggles.

Has the buildup of agents, fences and technology made the border more secure?

Answer: Probably, but to what degree is uncertain.

Fewer illegal immigrants are crossing the Southwest border, but it's difficult to determine how much of that is attributed to the buildup, because the decrease has coincided with the worst U.S. recession since the Depression.

The number of apprehensions by Border Patrol agents on the U.S.-Mexico border plummeted to 447,500 in fiscal year 2010, down from 1.1 million in fiscal year 2004.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano acknowledges that the weak economy helps explain why fewer people are getting caught crossing the border illegally, and she also credited crackdowns on employers who hire illegal workers. But she said a big reason is enforcement.

"The manpower, the technology, the infrastructure all has enabled us to be able to really slow that flow of illegal-immigrant traffic," she said at a news conference last week near San Diego.

Citing the seizures of more drugs, weapons and illicit cash along the Mexican border, Napolitano said: "We now have a border more secure than ever before."

But using the same rationale the feds apply to apprehensions - the lower the better - the buildup has not slowed the smuggling of drugs. Marijuana seizures along the U.S.-Mexico border by Border Patrol agents have increased to 2.5 million pounds in fiscal year 2009, up from 1.3 million in 2004.

So many people say, 'Build more fence.' Does it work?

Answer: Nobody knows for sure.

A 2009 report from the Government Accountability Office found that "despite a $2.4 billion investment to build 264 miles of fencing and 226 miles of vehicle barriers in the last five years, the impact of these barriers on border security is unknown because it has not been measured."

Proponents of border fencing point to double-layer fencing in San Diego and Yuma as proof that barriers work. Apprehensions dipped there after the fences went up, but the smugglers simply moved their routes.

The Border Patrol's 262-mile-long Tucson Sector has 71 miles of fencing, but it remains the busiest people- and drug-smuggling route on the border, accounting for nearly half of all arrests and marijuana seizures.

The problem with fences is that motivated smugglers and border crossers find ways over, through and around them. Critics call them nothing more than a speed bump. And the international border's diverse terrain, which includes mountains, canyons and rivers, makes a 2,000-mile fence impossible.

Border Patrol officials acknowledge that the barriers are not a panacea. But they say they deter, slow and funnel traffic, helping agents gain the upper hand in the ongoing cat-and-mouse game with smugglers.

The government has spent $2.4 billion on new fences, and the GAO estimates the life-cycle cost of all the barriers to be $6.5 billion.

The buildup of fences and roads along the border could have environmental consequences, too. Fencing has caused flooding and erosion, and it could be fragmenting wildlife habitat.

Virtual fences are better for the environment, but despite more than $1 billion spent over five years, the SBInet program has been plagued by glitches and major delays, and has yet to produce a working system. The GAO has questioned whether the time and money spent are a prudent use of limited resources.

Has violence from Mexico's raging drug wars spilled over the border?

Answer: It's not entirely clear, but most indicators say no.

The public shootouts, beheadings and killings that are part of life in northern Mexico due to the ongoing turf battles between drug cartels do not occur in Arizona. But some violence in Arizona may be associated with the illegal smuggling of people and drugs.

And there's no way to say spillover violence won't happen.

"Currently, U.S. federal officials deny that the recent increase in drug-trafficking-related violence in Mexico has resulted in a spillover into the United States," said an August 2010 report from the Congressional Research Center. "But they acknowledge that the prospect is a serious concern."

Is it possible to seal the border?

Answer: Probably not.

There are some who believe it's possible, such as the Border Patrol agents' union. But even the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the focus should be on controlling the border, not sealing it.

"This is not about sealing the border," Commissioner Alan Bersin said in September while in Tucson. "Until we have a legitimate labor market between Mexico and the United States, people will attempt to come here to work."

History shows that as long as better-paying jobs await in the U.S., people from Mexico and Latin America will continue to find a way around, through, under and over the gantlet of enforcement.

Not even the worst U.S. recession since the Depression has stopped the stream of illegal immigrants.

On StarNet: Find extensive coverage of immigration issues at

Friday, October 22, 2010

Costly virtual border fence in tatters

Los Angeles Times
October 22, 2010
by Brian Bennett

Reporting from Washington — The Department of Homeland Security, positioning itself to cut its losses on a so-called invisible fence along the U.S.- Mexico border, has decided not to exercise a one-year option for Boeing to continue work on the troubled multibillion-dollar project involving high-tech cameras, radar and vibration sensors.

The result, after an investment of more than $1 billion, may be a system with only 53 miles of unreliable coverage along the nearly 2,000-mile border.

The virtual fence was intended to link advanced monitoring technologies to command centers for Border Patrol to identify and thwart human trafficking and drug smuggling. But from the beginning, the program has been plagued by missed deadlines and the limitations of existing electronics in rugged, unpredictable wilderness where high winds and a tumbleweed can be enough to trigger an alarm.

Homeland Security officials decided on Sept. 21 not to invoke the department's option with Boeing, the principle contractor on the project, and instead extended the deal only to mid-November, Boeing officials confirmed this week. Boeing has charged the department more than $850 million since the project began in 2006.

The government has not released an independent assessment of the program completed in July, but with the two-month Boeing extension about to run out, several members of Congress expect the Homeland Security Department to rule soon on the fate of the invisible fence, the high-tech portion of the $4.4-billion Secure Border Initiative.

Homeland Security spokesman Matt Chandler would only say that a new way forward for the program "is expected shortly."

But given that the virtual fence has yet to pass muster even in the 53-mile test area — two sections in Arizona that officials acknowledge won't be fully operational until 2013 — and the government's lack of interest in extending Boeing's contract, most do not expect the department to invest billions more in a project that has continually disappointed.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he hoped Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would act soon. "The program is headed in the wrong direction," Thompson said.

"It would be a great shame to scrap SBInet," said Rep. Michael McCaul (R- Texas), who has encouraged the department to bring to the Southwest the technology the U.S. military is using on the Afghanistan- Pakistan border. "Technology is key to solving these border issues."

Even as scrutiny of the program has increased in the last year, Boeing has not provided accurate information on the progress of the program, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report released Oct. 18. The study found an unusually high number of errors in the data Boeing gave to the Homeland Security Department.

A spokeswoman for Boeing said the company had "worked closely with Customs and Border Protection to overcome past performance and management challenges." She added that Boeing was committed to completing the testing and delivery of the system at the Tucson and Ajo, Ariz., stations, which comprise the 53-mile test zones.

Some of the technology, such as remote cameras, night-vision video and mobile surveillance, is being used by agents in the Arizona test areas, which see a high level of cross-border traffic. But the effectiveness is far from what was requested by Homeland Security officials and promised by Boeing when the project began.

Daytime cameras are able to monitor only half of the distance expected. Ground sensors can identify off-road vehicles, but not humans, as initially envisioned by the government.

"It turned out to be a harder technological problem than we ever anticipated," said Mark Borkowski, executive director of the electronic fence program at the Homeland Security Department, earlier this year. "We thought it would be very easy, and it wasn't."

Congress was sold on the initiative as a way to combine newfangled gadgetry with old-fashioned fences to secure the entire expanse of the U.S. border with Mexico. Physical fencing has been installed over 600 miles of terrain under the program. But the technological portion, called SBInet, has languished.

Randolph C. Hite, who monitors the program as GAO director for information technology architecture systems, praised Homeland Security officials' decision to extend Boeing's contract on a short-term basis while it takes a close look at the program's worthiness.

"I think it is a prudent step," Hite said.

In the meantime, Homeland Security spokesman Chandler said Customs and Border Protection would determine "if there are alternatives that may more efficiently, effectively and economically meet our nation's border security needs."

Trouble with the invisible fence began in the design phase, when the Homeland Security Department set demands for the technology that surpassed what was available at the time. The department required, for example, that the system help Border Patrol agents be in position to apprehend 90% of the incursions over the border, but the technology has achieved only a fraction of that goal. Citing problems with the program, Napolitano announced in March that she was freezing funding to the initiative outside of Arizona.,0,5546525.story

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

GAO report: US land laws don't hinder border agents

Arizona Daily Star
October 20, 2010
by Brady McCombs

Federal rules governing public lands along the border cause some delays but do not prevent the Border Patrol from handling its assignment to secure the border, a federal report released Tuesday says.

As part of its 11-month evaluation, the Government Accountability Office interviewed agents-in-charge at 26 Border Patrol stations with primary responsibility for patrolling federal land along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Although 17 agents reported delays and restrictions to patrolling on federal land, 22 of them said "overall security status of their jurisdiction is not affected by land-management laws," the report says. "Instead, factors such as the remoteness and ruggedness of the terrain have the greatest effect on their ability to achieve operational control."

Of the four Border Patrol agents-in-charge who said the laws affect their ability to secure the border, two have not formally asked for better access to federal lands, and two others had their requests denied by Border Patrol senior officials who said there were more important needs, the report found.

"Yes, there have been delays. Yes, there have been restrictions placed on them," said Anu Mittal, director of the GAO's Natural Resources and Environment Team. "But it really hasn't affected their operation control."

The report was requested by 12 Republican lawmakers led by Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah and Rep. Peter King of Iowa. Bishop is the ranking member on the House subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands. King is the ranking member on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Five of the 12 legislators who requested the report are from Texas and one is from California, but none represents a district along the U.S.-Mexico border. None is from Arizona, which has the busiest stretch of border.

In April, Bishop introduced a bill that would give Border Patrol agents total access to public lands where they currently must adhere to some restrictions. Bishop justified the legislation based on authorities' belief that the person who killed Cochise County rancher Robert Krentz on March 27 fled into Mexico through the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, 17 miles east of Douglas.

The Border Patrol agents must get permission from supervisors to open locked gates and patrol the San Bernardino refuge, according to the report. The rules are in place to protect the habitat of threatened and endangered species.

The GAO report shows the need to give the Border Patrol better access to federal lands, said Bishop spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin.

"They can't wait for that delay," Subbotin said. "When they are radioing in for access to these lands with locked gates, they are missing critical opportunities to catch these criminals."

Subbotin said the opinions of 22 agents-in-charge should not overshadow the serious problems that exist along a porous border that leaves the country vulnerable to terrorists.

"When you speak with Border Patrol agents who are retired and in a position to be 100 percent candid, you get a completely different story," Subbotin said.

Brandon Judd, president of the Border Patrol agents' union in Arizona, agreed that the opinions of agents-in-charge can't always be trusted because they risk future promotions by going against the administration.

Judd, however, disagrees with Bishop's office that the agency needs total access to federal lands.

"They are protected lands for a reason," Judd said. "We don't need to give the Border Patrol carte blanche, but I definitely think we need to look at what might be hindering national security."

On Oct. 8, Bishop's office sent a news release with a draft version of the GAO report highlighting the "shocking details of how federal policies are preventing the U.S. Border Patrol's access to some of the most crime-ridden areas of the U.S.-Mexico border located on federal lands."

The news release didn't mention the finding that 22 of the 26 agents-in-charge said the laws didn't affect their ability to secure the border. Subbotin said the office released the report in the name of transparency, to allow people to read the draft and then the final version.

But leaking a GAO report before it is finished is unusual and says something about Bishop's integrity, said Matt Clark, Southwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife.

"The GAO report was commissioned as an attempt to gain any sort of clout to support Bishop's ill-conceived bill," Clark said. "It's not grounded in any real crisis. It's fear tactics designed to build public support for a highly controversial piece of legislation."

The GAO report confirms what people working along the border have known all along, Clark said.

"Land management restrictions that do exist are not impeding the ability to secure the border," Clark said. "And they are important to maintain to protect the integrity of the land and public resources."

On StarNet: Read more about border-related issues in Brady McCombs' blog, Border Boletín, at

Did you know

More than 40 percent of the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border is managed by the the Department of the Interior's land management agencies and the Forest Service. And these federally managed lands account for more than 97 percent of all apprehensions made by the Border Patrol.

Federally managed lands in Arizona include the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, southwest of Tucson; the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, east of Douglas; and the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Southwestern Arizona.

Source: Government Accountability Office

GAO report on web

To read the entire GAO report, go online to GAO-11-38

DHS Used Poor Checks on Border Contract: GAO

HS Today
October 19, 2010
by Mickey McCarter

Better management of Boeing would reduce SBInet costs, delays Congressional investigators confirmed Monday what many members of Congress already believed about the virtual fence program at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): DHS has not provided enough oversight to its prime contractor to ensure projects are on-budget and on-schedule.

The Boeing Co., Chicago, Ill., leads the contractor team tasked with setting up the Secure Border Initiative-Network (SBInet), but DHS management has not managed its activities effectively, charged the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in its report, Secure Border Initiative: DHS Needs to Strengthen Management and Oversight of Its Prime Contractor.

"DHS has largely defined but has not adequately implemented the full range of controls that is reflected in relevant guidance and related best practices and is needed to effectively manage and oversee its SBInet prime contractor," the GAO report read.Later, the GAO report added, "DHS has not effectively monitored the SBInet prime contractor's progress in meeting cost and schedule expectations."

The SBInet program office envisions a virtual fence consisting of sensors and communications equipment mounted on control towers along appropriate areas of the US southwestern border. These towers relay information to central command centers that present a common operating picture to Border Patrol agents in the field. Agents use that information to maintain situational awareness on trespassers and smugglers entering the United States as well as other criminal activity.

But DHS has relied heavily upon Boeing to build and field this system without adequate review processes for contractor deliverables, strong criteria for technical reviews, accurate performance measures for task orders or modifications, or appropriate explanations for contractor anomalies in monthly management reports.DHS concurred with GAO recommendations for improvements in these four specific areas, but it criticized GAO's characterization of errors in the monthly reports on Earned Value Management (EVM), a project management system for measuring the achievements of a contractor.

While DHS has defined and implemented policies and procedures for reviewing and accepting SBInet deliverables and assessing their technical merits, the department has failed to implement other important controls, the GAO report warned. DHS has not adequately documented reviews of contract deliverables, for example, and it has not put its documentation in order before wrapping up technical reviews.The SBInet program office has not produced strong verification and acceptance processes for contract deliverables and it has excluded some deliverables from the review process, the GAO report declared. Also, the office has suffered from insufficient time to review documentation for technical reviews.

"All told, DHS has not effectively managed and overseen its SBInet prime contractor, thus resulting in costly rework and contributing to SBInet's well-chronicled history of not delivering promised capabilities and benefits on time and within budget," the report stated.

Furthermore, DHS could minimize cost overruns and schedule delays if it ensured that Boeing properly implemented EVM controls to identify early warning signs of where the program might go off-course, the report said. DHS has not made certain that Boeing has used timely, completely, or accurately validated performance baselines, which estimate the value of planned work to measure performance. Occasionally Boeing was able to start work on task orders without any baseline at all in place. When baselines were later produced, they did not include all of the work to be performed under the task order, the report said. The baselines also used poor scheduling practices.

Due to anomalies in EVM data from Boeing, DHS has not understood potential cost and schedule pitfalls, thereby limiting its ability to avoid those problems future task orders, the report noted.Although DHS agreed with the four specific recommendations in the GAO report, it objected to criticism of its EVM practices specifically.

In a written response to the report, the department took exception to the statement that shortcomings in EVM data fostered cost overruns and schedule delays.

In particular, DHS said major program changes occurred with SBInet in 2008-2009 after major reviews resulting in changes of scope, schedule, and budget across SBInet."GAO casually observed that the lack of a validated baseline throughout a program review left DHS unable to accurately determine costs and schedules for SBInet, contributing to overruns and delays," DHS wrote. "But DHS argued that the SBInet program office maintained performance measurement baselines throughout the transition period with the best available information, as required by EVM best practices."

While EVM practices will face challenges during significant changes in the course of a program, DHS maintained that it adhered to EVM best practices during that time.DHS also objected to GAO's characterization of routine errors and adjustments in EVM reporting as "anomalies." Some of these adjustments, for example, were the result of estimates of subcontractor work provided by Boeing before the subcontractors submitted their final bills, DHS argued. While Boeing experienced both errors and adjustments in these reports, it has improved them significantly, which has allowed DHS to guide its management efforts effectively, the department said.

E. Germany's Wall a model for sealing border: US politician

October 18, 2010

LOS ANGELES — The United States could learn from East Germany's effectiveness in sealing its border with the Wall during the Cold War, a local politician seeking election to the US Senate has said.

Republican candidate Joe Miller, a Senate candidate in Alaska for November 2 mid-term elections, made the comments when discussing immigration at a town hall meeting reported by the Anchorage Daily News.

Miller said that, when he was serving in the US military, he spent time at the Fulda Gap near Frankfurt, a key point on the frontline between the then East and West Germanies.

"That was .. when the Wall was still up between East and West Germany, he said in an audio clip on the Alaska newspaper's website.

"East Germany was very, very able to reduce the flow," Miller said, adding: "Obviously there were other things that were involved, but we have the capacity as a great nation to obviously secure our border.

"If East Germany could do it, we could do it," Miller said, adding: "Frankly my perspective is, you've got to build a fence."

Miller's spokesman did not immediately return requests for a comment on the remarks, which come barely two weeks before mid-term elections across the United States next month.

Immigration is a potent issue in the United States, still struggling to recover from the global economic crisis. While some fret about foreigners potentially taking scarce US jobs, most Americans have a hard time opposing immigration energetically when most are descended from immigrants.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Departments of the Interior, Homeland Security Announce $6.8 Million in Conservation Projects

Department of the Interior Press Release
October 13, 2010

Washington, DC – The U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Customs and Border Protection have completed the first InterAgency Agreement under the 2009 Memorandum of Agreement to fund environmental mitigation projects that will benefit several species of fish and wildlife affected by border security projects in the Southwest. Signed September 28, the agreement will fund $6.8 million in projects and represents the first of a series of efforts designed to mitigate impacts from the construction of fencing and other security measures along the U.S. Border with Mexico.

“CBP is committed to protecting our country’s natural resources and wildlife while performing our security mission,” said CBP Deputy Commissioner, David Aguilar. “CBP is responsible for sound environmental stewardship and energy conservation as an integral part of their mission activities.”

“The projects we are announcing today are, in effect, part of a down payment on mitigating the impact on wildlife and its habitat from the on-going effort to secure our southern border,” Assistant Secretary Rhea Suh said. “In the future, we will continue to work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to fund new projects that ensure threatened and endangered species and other wildlife along the border are conserved and the fragile ecosystems they depend upon are protected.”

The initial mitigation projects include funding to restore habitat for lesser long-nosed bats in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Arizona; re-establish the Aplomado falcon in New Mexico; install a fish barrier at San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, Arizona to preclude competition with invasive species; study movement of bighorn sheep in California; survey and monitor jaguars and their habitat in Arizona.

Customs and Border Protection is funding these projects under a 2009 Memorandum of Agreement between CBP and the Department of the Interior for mitigation of unavoidable impacts to natural and cultural resources due to construction of border security infrastructure. Under this agreement, CBP will fund DOI up to $50 million over the next few years for mitigation needs.

Over the past three years, CBP has constructed about 670 miles of fence along the southwest border as an integral part of the nation’s strategy to improve border security. CBP has committed to responsible environmental stewardship throughout the life-cycle of the tactical infrastructure, from construction through operations and maintenance.

The First Mitigation Projects:
a. Sasabe Biological Opinion Arizona

b. Organ Pipe Cactus NM Biological Opinion Arizona

c. San Bernardino Valley Mitigation Arizona

d. Rio Yaqui Fish Studies Arizona

e. Peninsular Bighorn Sheep Study California

f. Coronado NM Agave Restoration Arizona

g. Northern Aplomado Falcon Reintroduction and Habitat Restoration New Mexico $499,700

h. Border-wide Bat Conservation Arizona

Monday, October 11, 2010

No Border Wall group launches Web site

Rio Grande Guardian
October 11, 2010

McALLEN, Oct. 11 - The No Border Wall coalition has launched its own Web site, to go alongside the blogs it has been running these past few years.

With a lot of information and citation links to documents and newspaper articles embedded throughout, the group hopes the new site will become a point of entry into the issue for reporters, researchers, policy makers, and the general public.

The Web site address is .

Scott Nicol, a spokesman for the No Border Wall group, said the Web site is designed to be a comprehensive guide to the U.S.-Mexico border wall – its history, effectiveness or otherwise, and the types of wall designs being floated and built.

Nicol said it is vital that national policies of the magnitude of a border wall are based on facts, rather than misleading sound bites. “That is why we have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information that is presented on the Web site,” he said.

The border wall issue was huge in the Rio Grande Valley a few years ago, when the Department of Homeland Security under Secretary Michael Chertoff was developing plans to build hundreds of miles of border fencing. The issue has since waned at least as far as news coverage is concerned.

The Guardian asked Nicol to detail why the Web site has been developed now and why it will be relevant in the weeks and months ahead. Here is his response:

“This is a critical time in the struggle to prevent hundreds of miles of additional border walls from being built. With mid-term elections less than a month away, politicians from all over the country are calling for the erection of more border walls. Some go so far as to demand that double-layered walls stretch continuously from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

“South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, who hopes that his backing of Tea Party candidates will give him a power base in the Senate, has twice this year introduced amendments that would require hundreds of miles of additional border wall, ignoring the fact that at an average cost of $7.5 million per mile his new walls would cost taxpayers $2,647,500,000.

“Even more extreme than DeMint is Kansas Representative Todd Tiahrt, who is running for the Senate. He has introduced legislation that requires continuous double-layered border walls along the entire 2,000 mile long border.

“From Rand Paul in Kentucky to Michael Gardiner in Rhode Island, conservative candidates are trying to outdo one another in their support for more and more border walls, in an effort to show voters that only they (certainly not their opponent!) can secure our nation's borders and keep us safe.

“Most of their claims regarding spillover violence and the effectiveness of border walls are at best urban myths, and at times outright lies.”

Nicol said the No Border Wall has launched its new Web site in an effort to present the facts.

“Any discussion of the future of the border, and those of us who live here, should be based in fact, not simply sound bites that appeal to the irrational fears and misconceptions of voters in Kansas or South Carolina or Kentucky.

“If, as many predict, there is a big shift in Congressional control, those who campaigned on border walls will feel obliged to follow through. As we saw with the Secure Fence Act (passed just weeks before the mid-term election) once legislation is passed it is extremely difficult to do anything about it. We need to work to educate people now.”

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Smugglers of Drugs Burrow on Border

New York Times
October 2, 2010
by Marc Lacey

NOGALES, Ariz. — Drone aircraft patrol the United States-Mexico border from the skies. Fast boats look out for smugglers at sea. And tens of thousands of Border Patrol agents use trucks, horses, all-terrain vehicles and bicycles to stop unauthorized crossers on land.

But there is another route across the border, one in which smugglers slither north. As enforcement efforts have increased and border barriers have been built, tunneling has gained in popularity, with Nogales becoming the capital.

On Thursday, the Border Patrol was filling an underground tunnel that had been discovered right under the immigration checkpoint in Nogales. But even before the concrete was poured to make that tunnel inoperative, another subterranean passageway was discovered a block away.

The second tunnel, which had been used to bring bales of marijuana from Mexico, will be filled as well. There are patches, in fact, all across this city, where the authorities have tried to tap the tunnels that traffickers build off the extensive underground storm drain system that connects Nogales with another city by the same name across the fence in Mexico.

With profit margins so huge, drug traffickers pushing their wares across the border are an enterprising lot. No matter how much the United States government pours into the region to stop them, there always seem to be novel attempts to elude detection.

And the two Nogaleses are where drug trafficking has literally gone underground. Burrowing from one country to the other happens elsewhere along the border, particularly in the smuggling zone around Tijuana. But officials say most of the tunnels discovered along the entire stretch of the border are from the Mexican Nogales to the American one.

“We are in the lead in the tunnel business,” said Chief Jeffrey Kirkham of the Nogales Police Department.

It is the geography of the region that makes tunneling so common here, as the Mexican side sits at a slightly higher elevation and water flows north through generations-old underground channels. “Through the downtowns of both cities, the drainage flows through a tunnel and then at some point goes into an open channel on the U.S. side,” said Sally Spener, spokeswoman for the International Boundary and Water Commission, a binational body that oversees water issues between the United States and Mexico.

Over the last four years, at least 51 unauthorized tunnels, or more than one a month, have been found in the two border cities. Some are short, narrow passageways that require those navigating them to slither. Others are long, sophisticated underground thoroughfares strung with electric cables and ventilation hoses.

Last year, a resident tipped off the authorities to a tunnel that extended 48 feet into Mexico and 35 feet into the United States, making it one of the longest ever found in Nogales.

One high-end tunnel found in 2005 farther west in Calexico, Calif., originated in the master bedroom of a Mexican home and extended to a garage on the American side. It had a phone line and air conditioning, and the authorities estimated that dozens of truckloads of dirt had to be removed to build it.

Although migrants heading north sometimes use tunnels, the passageways are more often considered the handiwork of drug smugglers. That means residents, especially on the Mexican side, sometimes look the other way when they observe surreptitious tunneling for fear of attracting the attention of criminals.

On the Arizona side, specially trained Border Patrol agents monitor the drains, entering the dark underworld that crisscrosses the border and looking for unauthorized offshoots dug by hand.

The air is cool down below. The only sound comes from the chirping of bats and the flow of water, a mixture of storm runoff and sewage. It seems a good place to hide.

“I’m one foot from the border,” Kevin Hecht, a Border Patrol agent standing in the dark in a stream of pungent water, said as he shined his flashlight around. “Down here, you look for signs of movement. You look for digging.”

Farther down the drain, David Jimarez, a Border Patrol spokesman, squatted in a tunnel and peered into a two-foot offshoot. “They crawl on their bellies,” he said. “They’re like a snake.”

How the tunnels are discovered varies. The one filled with concrete last week was found when the front tire of a bus sank into the pavement, revealing a weak spot that was caused by tunneling. There have been cases, officials say, of manholes popping up in the middle of roadways, with furtive eyes peering out. The owner of a Nogales warehouse last year discovered a tunnel in his border-front property.

Sometimes the diggers make too much noise. In June, a security guard at the DeConcini Port of Entry reported hearing strange sounds emanating from a storm drain that ran from the border fence north to Interstate 19. It turned out to be a tunnel just large enough to fit a smuggler.

“It’s a netherworld down there,” said Roy Bermudes, the assistant police chief in Nogales. “If you turn off your flashlight, you can’t see your hand in front of your face.”

Chief Bermudes used to enter the tunnels regularly when he led the police SWAT team that provided backup to city workers doing underground repair work. He recalls hearing a noise while underground and aiming his rifle in front of him, only to discover a Mexican military squad doing a similar patrol. After a brief standoff, the guns on both sides were lowered.

Eventually, as the danger grew, the city handed over patrol duties to the Border Patrol, which has installed underground cameras and motion detectors.

It is not just the flow of drugs that concerns the authorities here. The tunneling weakens roadways, sometimes causing them to buckle, and puts buildings at risk.

“There is a joke in Nogales that someday its entire downtown will collapse into a giant sinkhole due to the many drug tunnels in the city,” Hugh Holub, a former public works director in Nogales, wrote recently.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Immigration expert talks border policies

The Stanford Daily
October 1, 2010
by Erin Inman

you build it, they will come. And in border enforcement, if you build it higher, they will still come.

That was part of the hard look Wayne Cornelius, director of the Center for Immigration Studies at UC-San Diego, took at the effectiveness of U.S. border enforcement in a talk at Stanford on Thursday.

Cornelius founded the Mexican Migration Field Research and Training Program, which studies immigration from three Mexican regions: Jalisco, Oaxaca and the Yucatan. Forty years of field research in Mexico and the U.S. provided him with first-hand accounts of legal and illegal immigration.

More than 4,800 surveys show illegal border crossing remains high although the U.S. has spent $17.1 billion on immigration enforcement this year alone, he said. Sixty percent of immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border succeed on their first try and 90 percent of those actually detained by border patrol still end up successful.

He added that border patrol has increased four-fold since 1992, adding 600 miles of fencing that costs up to $16 million per mile.

“It’s our own great wall,” Cornelius said, referring to a section in the Otay Mountains of San Diego County.

But rather than stopping illegal immigration flow, the fences have only diverted it, he said. Migrants can simply tunnel under, climb over fences or trek across deserts or the Rio Grande. In fact, smuggling migrants has increased drastically as prospective immigrants search for new and safer, though sometimes more expensive, ways to cross the border.

These detours have generated close to14,000 deaths, he said. “It’s a slow-motion death across the Southwest.”

Cornelius suggests a cheaper alternative to current U.S. border policy: a more generous guest work program, an increase in permanent legal immigrant admissions and an increase in the number of green cards the U.S. awards.

Cornelius’ statistics were compelling enough to astonish some members of the audience.

“I was really surprised to hear the incredible amount of spending that has gone into border enforcement with almost no results to show for it,” Omar Media ‘13 said. ”That’s $30 billion down the drain. This only reinforces the idea that the U.S. must adopt comprehensive immigration reform now. We can’t afford not to.”

Friday, October 1, 2010

Senators: DHS isn't improving management fast enough

Government Executive
September 30, 2010
by Katherine McIntire Peters

While Homeland Security Department officials have improved the way they buy technology and manage money and staff, DHS continues to confront major management problems and is unlikely to be removed from the Government Accountability Office's high-risk list anytime soon.

"Unfortunately, progress has been slower than many expected and than any of us would like to see," said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee's panel on oversight of government management.

At a hearing Thursday he acknowledged improvements in leadership and management, but doubted they would be enough to warrant taking the department off GAO's list of agencies most at risk for waste, fraud and abuse.

"Many high-cost projects have been initiated with too little analysis, planning and follow-up, costing millions of taxpayer dollars and impacting the agency's mission," he said, singling out for specific criticism the Secure Border Initiative's electronic fence, known as SBInet. The program has experienced multiple setbacks, including cost overruns and schedule delays, and has failed to perform as expected.

In addition, Homeland Security has struggled to integrate the finance and accounting systems of its component agencies since it was formed in 2003.

Cathleen Berrick, GAO's managing director for homeland security and justice issues, said the management shortfalls have had a significant effect on missions. A number of major programs the department has tried to deploy, including SBInet and the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program known as US VISIT, have failed to meet performance and cost and schedule expectations.

"They were either delayed or never deployed to the field, so there's a direct correlation between how the department is managed and how successful [it is] in implementing the mission," Berrick said.

Deputy Secretary Jane Hall Lute said DHS has undertaken a number of significant actions to improve management across the department. Lute earlier this year initiated a strategic management approach focused on enhancing the people, structures and processes necessary to meet mission goals.

That initiative was centered on improving the acquisition process, financial management and personnel reform -- making sure the right people were in the right positions with a proper balance between civil servants and contract employees.

To that end, DHS has aligned account structures to better compare personnel costs and other factors across the department. "It's hard to talk about an integrated department if we don't count personnel or acquisition and investment or [operation and maintenance] costs in the same way," Lute said.

"In addition, we have reevaluated every single performance measure guiding the department. We've looked at all 180-odd performance measures, and we have recast them in ways that are plain language indicators of what the value proposition is in the department for money that's being allocated. We think this will be a much more sensible approach to performance metrics," Lute said.

Berrick said the new and revised performance measures have been a key improvement.

"I do think DHS is laying the groundwork [for improving management]. They do have good plans in place in many of these areas," Berrick said. The key will be implementing those plans, she added.