Obama's Emerging Un-Border Policy: 'Acceptable Levels of Illegal Immigration'

By Janice Kephart on May 27, 2011

The light is getting brighter and the resolution starker on the "no apprehension policy" being imposed on Border Patrol agents by their superiors: it may be part of an emerging "un-border" policy based on a view that we are currently experiencing "acceptable levels of illegal immigration", which logically means we can reduce the numbers of Border Patrol on the ground.

I just wrote about the president's lack of policy being a major problem in analyzing his El Paso immigration speech. Perhaps it was more fun to discuss border security as being an "alligator in a moat" solution, rather than fess up to this new policy of operational un-control of the border. Yet it would have been fun. The president could have joked about it like he did border security by calling it an "operational barely-there control" policy, "operation blind-eye", or even "operation open borders".

How strange. Under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, DHS was to achieve operational control of all the land and maritime borders of the United States within 18 months of enactment. The act defined operational control as "the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States, including entries by terrorists, other unlawful aliens, instruments of terrorism, narcotics, and other contraband."

DHS has defined operational control more broadly, according to the GAO:

Controlled: Continuous detection and interdiction resources at the immediate border with high probability of apprehension upon entry.
Managed: Multi-tiered detection and interdiction resources are in place to fully implement the border control strategy with high probability of apprehension after entry.
Monitored: Substantial detection resources in place, but accessibility and resources continue to affect ability to respond.
Low-level monitored: Some knowledge is available to develop a rudimentary border control strategy, but the area remains vulnerable because of inaccessibility or limited resource availability.
Remote/low activity: Information is lacking to develop a meaningful border control strategy because of inaccessibility or lack of resources.

According to the same GAO reporting from February 2011, "Border law enforcement officials recently claimed that have 'operational control' of 873 miles of our 2,000 border with Mexico, and claim they will achieve 'operational control' in a few years." So even by administration standards, we do not have operational control of most of the southwest border. Instead, 1,127 miles are "managed, monitored, low-level monitored, and remote/low activity" areas that now are deemed to incur "acceptable levels of illegal immigration," according to a logical extrapolation of Border Patrol reporting with new policy developments in Washington. By the way, just because an area is "remote" does not deem in "low activity." In fact, my three "Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border" films (here, here, and here) show quite the opposite: the more remote and inaccessible an area for the Border Patrol, either because of geography or wilderness laws preventing easy access, these areas are some of the most used for illegal routes into the United States.

Here's what the Anthony Kimery reported yesterday:

A variety of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials on the US border with Mexico interviewed by Homeland Security Today offered a candidly astonishing revelation. They said because of the decrease in apprehensions of illegals and the increase in seizures of narcotics trying to be smuggled into the country, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) leaders in Washington, DC are mulling over the notion of whether, as a matter of official policy, there's an acceptable level of illegal migration into the United States - and whether the CBP workforce needs to be slashed as a result.

The officials said the decrease in apprehensions has caused some officials to believe that some Border Patrol stations and outposts and CBP operations along the southern border are "over-manned" and not as busy as they'd been in recent years. Some of the officials even said "things" have had to be "found ... to [keep some agents] busy."

But officials and former officials said the notion that there's an acceptable level of illegal migration fails to take into account the lack of sufficient numbers of CBP agents at land Ports of Entry (PoEs); not enough Border Patrol agents on patrol in the most inhospitable areas of the northern border; and Border Patrol's insufficient policing of federally owned lands on both borders because Border Patrol agents aren't allowed to routinely patrol these lands without first "jumping through all sorts of environmental and other hoops," as an agent complained.

I'm thrilled that this administration, over two years into its tenure, is finally getting around to considering a border strategy. Yet I'm not sure it qualifies; it is more like a border un-strategy. Does anyone else feel like they are in a macabre version of the Mad Hatter's unbirthday tea party, and are having a very "Un-Policy" kind of day? Anyone like some finger sandwiches and petits fours to go with?