DHS Struggles to Find Effective Measures for Border Security

By Yasmin Tadjdeh

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Southwest Border Arizona Fence Line

Attempts to create a better system to gauge the effectiveness of border security have not yet come to fruition, said a top Customs and Border Protection official.

Since 2010, the Department of Homeland Security has been working on its Border Condition Index (BCI). The index — which is meant to evaluate the state of border security — will examine data and trends, both quantitatively and qualitatively. The initiative is meant to look past how much money has been spent, or how many personnel DHS has hired as the sole indicators of a safer border.

“It’s not appropriate to measure inputs standing alone as measures of border security,” said Mark Borkowski, assistant commissioner at CBP’s office of technology innovation and acquisition during a House subcommittee on border and maritime security hearing. “It’s not correct to say we just spent a lot of money and therefore we’re better. We need to link that to outcomes.”

Still, Borkowski said that the BCI was never meant to be a complete gauge of border security, but rather a tool to use alongside other data.

“It is an indicator; it’s not a perfect number,” he said.

Chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Candice Miller, R-Mich., said that if the BCI cannot be ready within the next two years, Congress will need to reevaluate whether it will be a useful tool. A way to formally evaluate border security is needed before comprehensive immigration reform can take place, she said.

“Without a way to quantify effectiveness there can really be no basis of determining how secure our borders are, let alone justification for immigration policy decisions,” said Miller.

Miller said that DHS must produce real results in order to win over the trust of Congress and U.S. citizens.

“Congress and the American people must have a great deal of confidence that the nation’s border-security agencies can deter or apprehend the overwhelming majority who cross the border illegally,” said Miller. “The department should be held accountable for outcomes and certainly not keep telling us that the border is just more secure than ever because there are a lot of agents or technology or infrastructure along the border.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said that DHS had to “get in the game.”

The number of Border Patrol agents has doubled from 10,000 in 2004 to more than 21,000 today, according to a statement prepared by CBP for the hearing. Additionally, DHS has made “unprecedented investments” in technology, the statement said.

In 2012, Border Patrol apprehensions remained at a historic low, with 364,768 recorded. They were down 78 percent since 2000 — when they peaked — and by 50 percent since 2008, said the statement.

“The decline in apprehensions is a good indicator that the border is more secure,” Borkowski said.

The statement also cited FBI data that found that violent crimes in Southwest border states dropped by 40 percent over the last two decades, while four major cities along the border — San Diego; McAllen, Texas; El Paso, Texas; and Tucson, Ariz. — saw population growth.

Photo Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Topics: Homeland Security, Border Security, DHS Policy

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