Time for a Military Approach to the Border

The Obama administration claims that the U.S.-Mexican border is more secure today than it has ever been in the last twenty years.  However, this ignores the fact that Mexico has higher levels of violence and that sections of the border are controlled by the drug cartels.  I went to Arizona to view the border with Colonel Martha McSally, who is running for Gabrielle Giffords's congressional seat, and to talk with ranchers about their border concerns.

There are many types of fences on the border.  In Douglas, Arizona Border Patrol has recently finished building a new 18-foot-high fence.  It covers six miles of border, is made of much tougher steel which is harder to cut, and sinks about six feet into the ground to make it harder to tunnel.  The ranchers are skeptical if this fence will do the job and cite Janet Napolitano's 2005 statement (when governor) that "[y]ou show me a 50-foot wall and I'll show you a 51-foot ladder."  Warner and Kelly, whose ranch is close to the border, discouragingly stated, "After this fence was built, the illegal immigrants were coming up and over.  It seems that the cartels will find ways around anything built."  There is also the fear that a tougher fence could push the smugglers into the rural areas where many of the ranchers reside.

They told American Thinker that the drug cartels use car haulers, ramps that slide cars over, catapults that throw drugs over the fence, and large cranes that have a huge magnet for lifting objects.  In the rural areas there are two types of fences: a Normandy- style and a "post and rail" fence that is approximately five feet high.  The ranchers are skeptical about any barriers that will work, including a double-fence.  A photo shows how easily Colonel McSally was able to get over the barrier.

Rancher Bill noted that those crossing the border are not so much the migrant workers, but instead the criminal element involved in drugs and human smuggling.   Bill and the others would like to see the establishment of a migrant guest worker program.  They feel this would cut down on the traffic of people, and it would ensure that those entering the U.S. illegally are the "true bad guys."  A former high-ranking Border Patrol (BP) official with knowledge of the Arizona border agrees: "For whatever reason, there is a reduction of those who have come to America to find jobs.  As a result, BP has had more time to focus on the smugglers."

What is ridiculous is that there are hilltops in Arizona, on U.S. territory, where the drug cartels have spotters.  The ranchers asked McSally, given her vast military tactical training, her approach for securing the border.  She feels that the policy has to be changed from a law enforcement point of view to a military strategy.  BP should be at the direct borderline, not twenty or a hundred miles away, so it would be exponentially easier to defend.  "We feel that way about Afghanistan, investing blood and treasure, so why not Mexico, our closest partner to the south?  We don't want a failed state run by transnational criminal organizations with ties to terrorist groups.  Mexico is a lot like Afghanistan in that there is corruption, ungoverned spaces, and security forces that are suspect.  We need the preponderance of assets at the border and on the hilltops.  We should own that area." 

However, there are a few problems that need to be addressed.  The first problem is the Mexican military.  The former BP official noted that the Mexican military is cooperative, yet, he says, "both the military and law enforcement of Mexico are suspect.  Since there is no other option, we constantly must trust and verify.  However, in Douglas, there was a fantastic relationship with the military."  Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) agrees and wants Congress and the Obama administration to hold Mexico accountable.  According to Gosar, the cooperation needs to be a lot better; the U.S. should carry a big stick and utilize it.  "This administration has to enforce the rule of law.  The cartels have become extremely smart in how they use our system.  They know that the 9th circuit court (Arizona and California) will turn them loose as opposed to the 8th circuit court (New Mexico and Texas).  We also need to honor Mexico's laws, unlike the Fast and Furious fiasco."

The workplace regulations are sometimes counterproductive.  After establishing relationships with the ranchers and learning the terrain, many times, that all goes to waste when the BP agents are transferred.  There is also the problem of the agents' work schedule: a five-day work week, not to mention the inhibiting overtime cap.  There is a federal mandate that an agent cannot receive more than $35,000 a year in overtime and Sunday pay.  The former BP official commented that having an agent on a hilltop for three consecutive days would basically eat up the overtime; thus, the rest of the year, they will have to work only eight-hour days.  Furthermore, he noted that the time it takes to travel to the remote areas and back is half of the shift.  This allows for the cartels to predict shift changes.  Since the military does not work on eight-hour shifts, the official wants Congress to change the rules to make BP less of a law enforcement mentality and more of a military one.

The ranchers also want a Border Patrol human barricade at the border, which would require a huge amount of manpower.  Sheriff Larry Dever of Cochise County also wants to see BP right on the border.  He explained it in terms of a football model: "You need the strongest and heaviest force on the front line, but there is also a need for the safeties for back-up in case someone gets past the line.  This can work if we establish a mission.  The military can help with manpower, detaining until those with the powers of arrest arrive.  They can work hand in hand with BP and law enforcement."  Congressman Gosar agrees and says all that is needed is for Congress to increase the funding for border security or "to imply and dictate" the military mission, and if not Congress, then the president should do it by executive order.

Sheriff Dever and the former BP official also want Americans to understand the dangers involved.  It is a war zone: BP agents and law enforcement on one side and the drug-runners/smugglers as the enemy.  Softball-size rocks are used against the agents/sheriff deputies, as well as lethal weapons.  Many of the Border Patrol SUVs have been reconstructed with wrought iron fencing around the windows and windshield to protect the officers.  Sheriff Dever noted, "Day in and day out those defending the border are assaulted by these people.  We are doing battle every day.  That is appalling and insulting."  Kelly also is appalled and angry that her daughter must indirectly deal with the drug-runners by attending school with some illegal immigrants who have drug belts attached to their body.

What is needed according to all of the experts is a stop to the incursion with a timely response, a simple concept with a complicated application.  A one-size-fits-all approach does not work on a border that goes from California to Arizona to New Mexico to Texas.  What is needed is a combination of manpower, technology, and aerial surveillance.  But most important is the need to stop politicizing this issue and look at the problem from a military point of view.