Editor’s Note: Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, is the US representative from Texas’$2 28th District. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
I was born and raised on the US-Mexico border, and I represent 290 miles of that border today. I know from personal and professional experience that a physical wall would be ineffective at reducing the number of undocumented people and the amount of illegal drugs that come across the border into the United States, a point I tried to explain in Tuesday’s bipartisan meeting with President Donald Trump.
The more effective ways to secure the border – which Democrats could support – include the use of modern technology, increased border personnel and better coordination with our southern neighbor.
As a member of Congress, I am in frequent contact with experts, including US Border Patrol agents and US Border Patrol sector chiefs, who have reaffirmed my belief that expanding the wall won’t help much in securing the border. We already have permanent walls and fences in the highest traffic areas – and they have proven to be unsuccessful. Between 2010 and 2015, the current 654 mile pedestrian wall was breached 9,287 times.
Instead of a wall, we should increase the use of modern technology, including cameras, fixed towers and aerial and underground sensors. Violent drug cartels are using more modern technology to breach our border than we are using to secure it. We can’t double down on a 14th century solution to a 21st century challenge if we want a viable long-term solution.
A physical barrier also doesn’t address the illicit trafficking of people and narcotics or the issues surrounding visa overstays. The majority of illicit narcotics enter the United States via our land ports of entry, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary. A more efficient use of limited tax dollars would be to invest heavily in state-of-the-art detection technologies and strengthen the US Customs and Border Protection’s Container Security Initiative to mitigate illicit trafficking.
In addition, since 2007, visa overstays (aliens who have remained in the United States longer than their visa allows) have exceeded those who cross the border illegally, based on information contained in the Center for Migration Studies report – DHS Overestimates Visa Overstays for 2016. We must expand the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Counterterrorism and Criminal Exploitation Unit, which is dedicated to the enforcement of nonimmigrant visa violations and provide funding to fully implement the Biometric Entry-Exit System at all air, land and sea ports of entry.
Customs and Border Protection staffing shortages further jeopardize our national and economic security. While the number of Border Patrol agents doubled from 2004 to 2011, the number of Border Patrol agents has declined from over 21,000 in 2011 to 19,437 in 2017. According to the Office of Inspector General Special Report “Challenges Facing DHS in Its Attempt to Hire 15,000 Border Patrol Agents and Immigration Officers,” “CBP projects an annualized attrition rate of 6% (approximately 1,380 losses per year) for CBP law enforcement positions.”
CBP has had to outsource its recruitment efforts in an attempt to fill staffing shortfalls. I have been a strong advocate for the expedited hiring of CBP personnel, co-sponsoring such legislation as H.R. 2213: Anti-Border Corruption Reauthorization Act of 2017. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I am also working to ensure that CBP has adequate resources to address its operational challenges.
Finally, we must also continue to strengthen our partnership with Mexico in order to improve border security efforts. Already, Mexico stops thousands of people from ever reaching our borders by stopping them at its southern border. Mexican law enforcement and US Border Patrol coordinate interdiction efforts, perform joint patrols, respond to border violence and pursue prosecution of criminals of transnational criminal organizations.
We will never realize a secure border with Mexico without investing in our border security technology and personnel, and extending border security outward so American borders are the last line of defense, not the first.
Instead of wasting American tax dollars on a symbol of separation, we should capitalize on the fact that Mexico and the United States are great neighbors and trade partners, not enemies.