San Diego Union-Tribune
March 15, 2011
by Elizabeth Aguilera
A bill introduced in Congress today could lead to an additional 350 miles of fencing along the southwest border and would require the Department of Homeland Security to report to Congress when apprehension activity climbs 40 percent year over year, if it is approved.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, authored the bill, titled “Unlawful Border Entry Prevention Act,” in response to a Government Accountability Report that found 44 percent of the southwest border is under “operational control” and 15 percent is totally secure. The legislation is co-sponsored by Republicans Brian Bilbray, Solana Beach, Ed Royce, Fullerton, and Ted Poe, Texas, and North Carolina Democrats Heath Shuler and Mike McIntyre.
“Despite considerable gains in recent years, the Southwest border is nowhere near secure,” Hunter said. “This not only presents a significant risk to U.S. national security, but also undermines the safety of communities on both sides of the border.”
The bill would need approval in the House of Representatives as well as the Senate and the signature of President Barack Obama to become law.
Hunter's bill also requires Homeland Security to report to Congress if apprehensions increase 40 percent from one year to next in any given sector along the southwest border. The report must include a plan for gaining “operational control.”
Apprehensions are at an all time low across the southwest border, an indicator, officials say, of increased security and a decrease in attempts by people to cross illegally. Last year Border Patrol reported 463,000 apprehensions, a decrease of 36 percent over the previous two years.
The GAO report “Preliminary Observations on Border Control Measures for the Southwest Border,” released last month, found the Border Patrol has various levels of control along the border and responds best to unlawful activity after illegal entry into the U.S. is made and not on the immediate border.
The government’s analysis found that of the 873 miles Border Patrol reports are under operational control about 129 miles are classified as controlled. More than half of the southwest border is “managed,” which means response to activity occurs after illegal entry. The southwest border encompasses nearly 2,000 miles.
In San Diego nearly 90 percent of border miles are under “operational control,” according to the report. Yuma reported 100 percent operational control and Tucson and El Paso reported around 70 percent operational control. Marfa, Del Rio, Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley reported less than 40 percent of operation control, according to GAO.
As of Dec. 2010, 649 miles of pedestrian and vehicle type fencing has been erected. DHS was required to identify the fencing locations prior to Dec. 2008.
While the GAO report is accurate, according to Border Patrol officials, it does not take into account collaborations with other agencies on both sides of the border. It also uses limited definitions of terms created for personnel but not necessarily for outside review or understanding, said Deputy Chief Ronald D. Vitiello at the time the report was released.
Vitiello said the terms in the report such as “operation control” are internal measures and may be misunderstood by those outside the agency. Operational control as it is defined by Border Patrol involves: detection of persons crossing the border, identification of the person, classification of the level of threat, respond and resolve.
The GAO also outlined a plan by the Border Patrol to revamp how it assesses outcomes in an effort to make the terms more universal. There will be a gap in reported outcomes next year while the system is being re-purposed, according to the report.