Illegal Crossings, DHS Merger Discussed at Borders Task Force Session
By Justin O'Brien
July 12, 2004
Mayors discussed preventive policing measures on the nation's borders during the Cities and Borders Task Force session June 27. Attendees at the meeting, moderated by Task Force Co-Chair Detroit Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick, were joined by Ron Colburn, Senior Associate Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol and David Hagy, Director for Local Government Coordination at the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office of State and Local Government Coordination. The Cities and Borders Task Force is the United States Conference of Mayors' forum for discussion of the effects of border problems and issues on cities throughout the country.
Border and Heartland Mayors Face Continued Challenges
Mayors from border communities and diverse parts of the country described many of the challenges their cities continue to face in light of ongoing border security concerns and continued illegal migration across the borders, noting that undocumented crossings mean continued public safety and security threats. Large border cities such as Detroit, Laredo and Buffalo due to their role in cross'border international trade, struggle with significant infrastructure issues of critical national importance, while other cities in border regions identified the need for policy changes to alleviate problems related to illegal migration.
Technology Investigations, Immigration Policy Changes Urged
Buffalo Mayor Anthony Massiello noted that infrastructure and technology investments would significantly expedite commercial and visitor traffic flows in his city, slowed by security measures introduced to fight illegal crossings and terrorism threats. Also discussed, were the many economic and commercial needs that legal and illegal migrants satisfy in cities far from the border as well as border communities and border cities themselves. Watsonville (CA) Mayor Judy Doering-Nielsen noted the great difference of opinion in her community and across the country regarding recent so-called "sweeps" by the Border Patrol and the need to find a balanced solution to the question of Guest Worker programs and immigration policy.
Chief Colburn described the integration of the 12,000 strong U.S. Border Patrol into the Bureau for Customs and Border Protection when DHS was created and the Border Patrol's anti-terror focus in light of the heightened risk of terrorism. The Border Patrol is primarily tasked with the prevention of illegal entries and the interdiction of contraband across U.S. borders. Noting that over 500,000 arrests have been made during this fiscal year, mostly at the time of entry, Colburn described how most arrested do not represent public safety threats but enter for economic reasons. He noted that 40 percent of illegal smuggling is currently experienced in Arizona, necessitating the area-specific Arizona Border Control Initiative.
Supporting Technology Assists Border Patrol Reduce Illegal Crossings
Colburn went on to add that the deployment of technology including Gamma Ray Scanners and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) is assisting significantly in combating illegal entries to the country. Almost $300 million has been invested in the use of fixed and rotary wing aircraft to combat illegal crossings. He also explained the human and contraband trafficking focus of the Border Patrol's Operation "Vigilant Sentry." The Caribbean region's Border Patrol is also responsible for policing the Florida and Puerto Rico coastlines.
Numbers of Illegal Border Crossings Unclear
Fort Collins Mayor Ray Martinez highlighted problems with the accurate measurement of actual illegal crossings during the discussion. Regardless of the increased technology deployment on the borders including remote systems, electronic sensors and visual evidence, the numbers of illegal border crossings remain estimations and not actual numbers. Colburn described how approximately 90 percent of arrests on the Canadian and Mexican borders result in voluntary repatriation, while 25 percent of those apprehended while crossing the border are repeat offenders. Also highlighted were difficulties due to differences between jurisdictions, particularly with regard to the compatibility of applicable laws and arrest powers.
Hagy explained how ODP's merger with State and Local Government Coordination at DHS is taking coordination and streamlining to the next level as grants and funding were previously merged to coordination within ODP. He went on to describe how the State and Local Homeland Security Funding Task Force identified important blockages in the funding system. In conclusion, Mayor Kilpatrick noted that it is imperative that local executives be included in decision-making and information'sharing processes and urged that efforts be "refocused" to "prevention" of terrorism and illegal crossings rather than continued orientation towards "response."