National Review Online, March 28, 2011
Yesterday marked the first anniversary of the murder of Arizona rancher Rob Krentz by an illegal alien. His death was especially shocking because Krentz had no involvement with the illicit traffic across our border with Mexico — previously, the violence had been almost completely confined to, for instance, illegal aliens held for ransom by their smugglers, or drug dealers fighting over their contraband, or law-enforcement officers upholding the laws of the United States.
But Krentz was just an ordinary rancher who happened to be in the path of the increasingly dangerous flows across our border. His murder has had far-reaching effects. Though the legislation was already in the works, the killing helped impel the passage of SB 1070, Arizona’s landmark anti-illegal-immigration measure, which, in turn, led to the infamous Justice Department lawsuit against Arizona.
In an attempt to manage the political fallout of Krentz’s murder and the DOJ lawsuit in the leadup to the November elections, the Obama administration deployed National Guard troops to the border, though purely in a support capacity. (They’re preparing to leave in June.)
Krentz’s murder also led the administration into Baghdad Bob–style denials of reality, most notably homeland-security secretary Janet Napolitano’s assertion that “the border is as secure now as it has ever been.” Since she said that, Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered west of Nogales by smugglers, and a drug dealer in suburban Phoenix was beheaded for stealing from a Mexican cartel.
This highlights a development that was repeatedly confirmed to me by locals when I toured the Arizona border earlier this year — numbers of people sneaking across are indeed down, but the danger level is up. A Border Patrol spokesman made the same point to a Washington Post reporter last month:
The number of Border Patrol agents has doubled since 2004, and the danger they face when stopping potential illegal immigrants has increased “exponentially,’’ said Mark Qualia, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“In the 1990s, you’d be catching migrant workers, average Joes coming here to seek jobs,” he said. “There was very, very rarely any altercation.’’
Now, Qualia said, agents are more likely to encounter people with outstanding warrants for drug trafficking and other crimes.
“They are much more desperate, and they have a tendency to be a lot more combative,” he said.
This increased danger has led to perhaps the most interesting development in the year since Krentz was murdered: his fellow ranchers have gotten organized in demanding real border control. Before March 27, the Arizona Cattlemen’s Association was just a trade group like any other — representing the interests of the state’s beef-producing families to the legislature, litigating water rights, running quality-certification programs, etc. But with the murder of one of its own last spring, the organization put together the Restore Our Border (R.O.B.) plan, named after Krentz and designed to prevent similar outrages against their members and other Arizonans. The cattlemen lobbied the legislature, and a resolution endorsing the plan was passed by the state senate last month and is now before the house.
An overview of the plan’s 18 action items sheds some real-world light on the shortcomings of our border-security effort:
1. Immediately deploy operational units of the U.S. Military to the Arizona/Mexico Border to assist the US Border Patrol to deny illegal entry into the United States between the ports of entry.
This is such an obvious measure that the fact we’re not doing it is itself an indictment of our governing class’s lack of commitment to defending America’s sovereignty. Military backup for the Border Patrol needs to be a permanent, systemized effort, not a short-lived episode of political theater.
2. Authorize the use of force by governmental officials in the interdiction of vehicles and all aircraft (including ultra lights) illegally crossing the U.S./Mexico Border.
This is all we have right now on much of the border — vehicle barriers or Normandy barriers. They’re better than nothing (though obviously only for ground vehicles, not aircraft), and smugglers do have to stop while they cut through them (which happens a lot), but smugglers also need to know that the Border Patrol can use force if necessary.
3. Enforce all existing immigration laws, both with law-enforcement agencies and within the judicial branch. Implement Operation Streamline across all Border Patrol Sectors on the U.S./Mexico border.
Almost all illegal aliens apprehended by the Border Patrol are given “voluntary return” — they don’t challenge their removal to Mexico, and, in return, we don’t prosecute them for the federal crime of entry without inspection and don’t register their removal as a formal deportation, which would limit their ability to return legally in the future. Operation Streamline is an effort in a few, relatively remote parts of the border to criminally prosecute everyone who’s apprehended, jail them for a few weeks, and then return them — meaning they’ve paid both an immediate price for their crime as well as the longer-tern one of having a criminal record.
4. Establish Forward Operating Bases (FOB) immediately adjacent to the U.S. border with Mexico. (We suggest at least one FOB every 12 miles). Work with affected rural residents to establish FOB locations and determine the need for additional sites.
These Forward Operating Bases for Border Patrol agents are imperative, because in some cases, the local headquarters office where agents gather before each shift is an hour-and-a-half drive from the border itself. The handful of FOBs we do have are converted shipping containers that can be moved quickly depending on changes in illegal traffic. I asked one rancher who has a base on his land, and who provides it with its water, whether the agents considered it hardship duty to be there; he said that, on the contrary, there’s a wait list to work at these FOBs, because Border Patrol agents tend to sign up for the action, not for commuting from a distant location.
5. Enhance the “Pursuit and Apprehension” policies for Law Enforcement to ensure deterrence and protect U.S. residents and State authorities from potential harm. In the first instance, authorize the Border Patrol, State and Federal Law Enforcement Agencies to use these enhanced policies to enforce existing laws and to interdict all border incursions.
6. Add at least 3,000 Border Patrol field agents in Arizona by 2012. Ensure additional incremental equipment is part of Field Agent deployment. Make available concomitant resources within the Department of Justice to meet the increased demands on the legal system from these additional agents.
Anti-enforcement folks constantly deride our border efforts by noting how the number of Border Patrol agents has increased and illegals are still coming. What they don’t tell you is that, even after the buildup, the entire Border Patrol is still smaller than the NYPD. Even if every Border Patrol agent were stationed on the Mexican border (and they’re not, because we have thousands of miles of border elsewhere), there would still be only an average of maybe two agents per mile per shift. The notion that this is excessive, or even adequate, is laughable.
7. The judicial and law enforcement systems which prosecute Border related criminal activities must recognize and apply an enforcement mechanism that provides felony prosecution of as many detainees as feasible, including first-time entrants, with existing judicial resources and continuing expansion of judicial capacity as need indicates. Penalties for conviction must bar any illegal entrant from ever working or receiving residency visa status in the U.S.
This is an expansion of the Operation Streamline idea, the core principle being that there need to be severe consequences for violating our border if there’s ever to be deterrence. Currently, since we don’t really treat border incursions as all that serious, neither do the illegal aliens.
8. Increase permanent “Stone Garden Funding” for County law enforcement affected by Border security problems to provide additional fully-equipped deputies with all-terrain vehicles and sufficient matching local judicial and penal system personnel, equipment and infrastructure expansion to the level that eliminates any unfair cost burden for Border security on Border States, counties and municipalities.
Operation Stonegarden funds help border-county law-enforcement agencies pay for overtime and other expenses related to addressing what should be federal responsibilities. It’s simple equity that local taxpayers not have to bear the entire burden of coping with the failure of the federal government to secure the border. Even jurisdictions a little farther north of the border have had to ramp up their policing to protect their citizens; Pinal County sheriff Paul Babeu hopes to get funding from the state legislature to cope with the increasing law-enforcement burden created by illegal-immigration-related cartel activity.
9. Expedite deployment of sufficient and appropriate communications technology, as needs are determined by Sector and Station Chiefs, to Border Patrol units operating in Arizona and New Mexico.
10. Require the Border Patrol to attain full time, around the clock border surveillance capability by means of electronic, optical, and other appropriate technology, together with necessary support personnel as determined by Border Patrol Sector and Station management. Ensure additional incremental agents are deployed to operate and maintain this hardware and technology.
Camera towers like the one pictured here are an invaluable tool for border surveillance. But there’s often not enough manpower to actually monitor all the cameras and call in sightings to agents in the field. Smugglers quickly figured out, of course, that if the camera at the top of the tower wasn’t moving, that meant no one was controlling it, and thus no one was watching. And, as I understand it, the monitors back at headquarters are manned by fully trained agents instead of more junior — and less expensive — personnel, a misallocation of resources if there ever was one.
11. Replace outdated or ineffective air support resources with contemporary rotorcraft and small single engine fixed wing aircraft. Deploy air support on or near the U.S. Border. Ensure enough air support to monitor the Border and respond to calls from Border Patrol Agents.
I didn’t get any helicopter rides on my recent Arizona border trip (we passed on the official dog-and-pony show), but the problem of “outdated or ineffective” equipment is one the Border Patrol has faced for years in a whole range of areas. You see, it’s not a real security force like the Army or the FBI or the Coast Guard, or even the LAPD, so giving it hand-me-downs is not a problem. This has been most problematic with regard to fencing; for years, the little border fencing we had was made of Vietnam-surplus metal landing mats that were corroding and almost useless– as seen here (this is one of the many places where the fencing just ends). Things have improved a lot, as is clear from this photo. But there’s still a long way to go.
12. Subsidize private communications infrastructure and equipment expansion through installation of either new cellular telephone towers or other radio technology sufficient to ensure near-complete coverage so that citizens living or working in remote areas along the U.S. Border and especially along known smuggling corridors have the capability to contact law enforcement at any time as needed.
I’m not a fan of subsidizing anything private, but cell coverage isn’t great in much of southern Arizona, as should be obvious from this beautiful but desolate vista. There are lots of places without cell coverage, of course (heck, I barely get a signal a few miles outside Washington, D.C.), but people in the immediate vicinity of the Mexican border are vulnerable to foreign threats in a way that someone in, say, eastern Montana or northern Alaska is not. What’s worse, there are signs like this all around that basically tell people they’re on their own because “smuggling and/or illegal entry is common in this area due to the proximity of the international border.” The least the feds could do is facilitate better cell coverage so that a rancher out repairing his fence can call the Border Patrol in an emergency.
13. Establish Citizens Advisory Boards in every Border Patrol Station and cooperate with rancher liaison groups within each Station to address security issues in rural areas of the Sector.
This is a commonsense component of community policing but not a standard practice for the Border Patrol. The ranchers I met in Nogales told me they had a good relationship with the current area chief, but it’s basically by chance — this kind of thing needs to be institutionalized.
14. Establish seamless border enforcement from Florida all the way to San Diego without jurisdictional gaps occurring in areas between Border Patrol Sectors.
Just as shift-change can be a time when things fall between the cracks, the same can happen where different Border Patrol sectors or stations (the component parts of sectors) meet.
15. Increase the number of additional Arizona Horse Patrol Units, and fund them appropriately.
As is obvious from the mountain vista above, there are large parts of the Mexican border — and not just in Arizona — that are not car-friendly. Horses give the Border Patrol access to places even all-terrain vehicles have a hard time reaching.
16. Streamline the federal claims process for recovering damages caused by illegal alien burglaries, vandalism and ranch infrastructure/livestock losses, including damage to range resources, livestock, and losses from fires on both private and public lands attributable to the activities of illegal Border crossings.
17. Adequately fund State and Federal Attorneys’ Offices to assure timely prosecution of Border related offenses.
Inadequate resources is a major part of the reason such a small proportion of illegal aliens are prosecuted. And after all, the budget is the policy.
18. Track the achievement of Border Security by means of monthly disclosure of all crimes, by title and code, committed and suspected to have been attributable to illegal aliens or smuggling activity. Include in such disclosure statistics County law incidents.
Disclosure? Transparency? That would be nice.
Is this all that’s necessary to restore control over our borders? No — we also need to enforce the ban on hiring illegal aliens, to reduce the magnetic attraction of coming here; we need to discontinue the Mexican Border Crossing Card, which serves as a tool for widespread fraudulent entry; and we need an unequivocal federal commitment to cooperation with local law enforcement.
But the R.O.B. Plan is a fine road map for tightening the border. We owe it to Rob.