Analysis of Obama's Executive Amnesty Scheme: Border Security

By Dan Cadman on November 21, 2014

[Note: This is the first of several items analyzing the pieces of executive action authorized by the president.]

Concurrent with the televised nationwide presidential address last night, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary issued a series of memoranda outlining the various facets of the programs and policies which would constitute, in total, "executive action" relating to immigration matters.

The administration has characterized them this way:

  • Strengthen Border Security
  • Revise Removal Priorities
  • End Secure Communities and Replace it with New Priority Enforcement Program
  • Personnel Reform for ICE Officers
  • Expand Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program
  • Extend Deferred Action to Parents of U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents
  • Expand Provisional Waivers to Spouses and Children of Lawful Permanent Residents
  • Revise Parole Rules
  • Promote the Naturalization Process
  • Support High-skilled Business and Workers

Some of the subject areas outlined consist of more than one memorandum. I will be undertaking an analysis covering the subject matter areas, highlighting key points of their respective memoranda and contents. What follows is that relating to "Strengthen Border Security".

Strengthen Border Security

The DHS summary of the multiple actions asserts that "This new plan will employ DHS assets in a strategic and coordinated way to provide effective enforcement of our laws and interdict individuals seeking to illegally across [sic] land, sea, and air." It would be difficult for any serious student of border affairs to agree with that assessment.

First, there is only a passing reference to air ports of entry in the "plan", despite the reference in the summary. In fact, very little is made of ports of entry at all, other than the need to expeditiously move goods and people, which is no new thing, and for which there is no supporting strategic or tactical vision.

Second, there is no reference whatever to the northern border; it is as if the 3,987 mile frontier with Canada did not exist (and that doesn't even include Alaska's 1,538-mile border).

Third, the plan divides up its strategic coordination into three fundamentally unexplained, and perhaps inexplicable, "joint task forces". Two are geographically oriented: Joint Task Force East, the Coast Guard being the "supported component" insofar as JTF-East focuses on the maritime border; Joint Task Force West, Customs & Border Protection being the "supported component" insofar as JTF-West focuses on the southern land border. The last, JTF-Investigations, is not geographic, and Immigration & Customs Enforcement is the "supported component". One wonders at this seemingly arbitrary troika. What, for instance, will happen with maritime incursions at our long Pacific coast line? (In the past, these have consisted of everything from Mexican cigarette boats laden with aliens and narcotics, to tramp freighters filled with hundreds of Chinese would-be migrants.) Would these be flipped, against all reason, to JTF-East? Doubtful.

Given the breadth of its mission and span of control, what DHS needs is a modern, unified command structure not too dissimilar to that used by today's Department of Defense. That would be welcome news indeed – rather than a hollow announcement of arbitrary and apparently ad hoc JTFs.

The other singular disappointment in the Strengthen Border Security memorandum is its articulation of ten "goals, objectives and lines of effort". When outlining efforts of major significance, such as this memorandum attempts, it is imperative that goals, which are strategic, and objectives, which are tactical, be clearly and distinctly defined. It is also a hallmark of intelligent planning that outcomes be measurable. This implicates the way goals and objectives are defined, because if there are no metrics which can be tied to the goals and objectives, there is no way to measure success or failure.

Many of the ten objectives (and "lines of effort" – a confusing new and undefined turn of phrase whose contents seem merely to paraphrase the objectives) do not meet that test.

For instance, how does one meaningfully measure "Reduce the terrorism risk to the Nation"? What is the baseline? What does success look like? How does one get from here to there? One can't tell from the memo. Apparently, DHS doesn't know.