By MSG Daniel L. Dodds, US Army
On 11 September 2001, people all over the world watched as terrorists hijacked multiple planes that resulted in the collapse of the north and south towers of the World Trade Center, the attack on the United States Pentagon, and a fourth plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Twenty years later, a caravan of Central American and Caribbean migrants seeking asylum, marched through Mexico on a path to the United States’ southern border in Texas, in hopes of entry. While both cases have proven to be catastrophic for the American people, one would assume that the 19 hijackers entered the country illegally, and that is furthest from the truth.
At the time of the attack, all 19 hijackers entered the country legally, and five were overstays that violated the terms of their visas (Alden, 2012). The caravan of migrants may get a significant amount of media attention due to the current political landscape, but the hijacker’s entry methods are much more prevalent today. Border security is a complex problem that requires a complex solution. The United States should implement modern technology and policies to combat the surge in illegal immigration, improve border protection, and remove visa overstays.
While physical barriers and modern technology are crucial to assisting with the reduction of unauthorized border crossings, there are still illegal immigrants that enter the U.S. through legal means. The U.S. needs to reduce the number of visa entries it accepts to make a positive impact on illegal immigration. According to Warren and Kerwin (2017), legal entries account for a major part of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Additionally, data reveals that two-thirds of the undocumented immigrant population within the U.S. entered by obtaining a temporary school or work visa, and at some point, after admittance, stayed beyond the term of their visas resulting in their transition into an illegal status (Warren & Kerwin, 2017).
Understanding that the majority of illegal immigrants are people who enter the country through legal means, the U.S. must address this problem as a two-pronged approach. First, the U.S. needs to increase Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, which will enable the tracking and removal of violators who overstay their visa terms. Then, the U.S. needs to reduce the number of authorized entries, which can lead to a reduction of visa overstays and makes a positive impact on the illegal immigration problem (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2019). Border security requires a robust system that involves better tracking of legal entries, a border wall or physical barrier, and enhanced technology to prevent and deter illegal immigration from occurring.
The U.S. should continue building the southern border wall and improve existing infrastructure to reduce illegal immigration. To curb unauthorized border crossings in the mid-1990s, the federal government began erecting a primary fence in the San Diego sector of the southern border where there were significant numbers of drug smuggling operations occurring (Brandys et al., 2018). As a direct result of the primary fence, border patrol along the California-Mexico border region saw a reduction of drug smuggling and unauthorized crossings (Brandys et al., 2018). Due to the success of the primary fence in the San Diego sector, Border Patrol asked, and the U.S. Congress approved the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996.
The IIRIRA is a law that mandated the immediate construction of a physical barrier along the southern border, which encompassed an environmental waiver to allow expedited construction in highly populated areas like San Diego, California, and El Paso, Texas (Brandys et al., 2018). Then, President Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 into law, which has led to the construction and fortification of an added 652 miles of fencing, a 100-yard border zone on each side of the fencing, and added vehicle barriers and checkpoints (Brandys et al., 2018). The success of the initial primary fence and subsequent IIRIRA and Secure Fence laws are proof that having a physical barrier will reduce the number of border crossings and reduce the surge of incidents in the southern border region of illegal immigration through unauthorized crossings.
After the Secure Fence Act of 2006, smugglers became more sophisticated with their methods for illegally crossing the southern border. With barrier construction full steam ahead in highly populated areas, unauthorized crossings moved to remote and scarcely populated areas to circumvent the border walls. In addition to physical barriers like the wall, implementing modern technology is critical to securing the border and preventing illegal immigration. According to Cholakian (2017), sensor technology enables the tracking and identification of illegal crossings up to four miles away from the sensor. Additionally, unmanned drones can detect and follow border crossers in areas not usually accessible by the vehicles on ground. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) use pilotless drones to aid with patrolling the border, conducting surveillance for investigations, and responding to officer safety scenarios (Koslowski & Schulzke, 2018).
Furthermore, a staple in the technology for border security is the use of electro-optical devices such as infrared and visible light cameras that connect to various computer systems and sensors that can detect illegal border crossings (Wilson, 2018). With the inclusion of advanced technology including sensors, radars, drones, and cameras, the U.S. could detect illegal immigrants prior to their arrival in areas that lack a physical barrier or areas that do not have border patrol agents on duty. This technology acts as an early warning system and enables the dispatching of CBP and ICE agents as a response force, ultimately reducing the amount of illegal immigration occurring in the southern border regions.
According to Warren and Kerwin (2017), “California has the largest number of overstays 890,000, followed by New York 520,000” (p. 2). Interestingly, both California and New York have sanctuary laws that enable undocumented immigrants to avoid prosecution for their illegal status (Warren & Kerwin, 2017). While the Federal government maintains the power to regulate immigration, States have an important role in enforcing federal mandates (Brown, 2022). Unfortunately, California and New York purposefully choose not to enforce the Federal government’s mandates on immigration. According to current laws, entering the country illegally and overstaying visa terms are both crimes in the U.S., and people who commit crimes in the U.S. should be prosecuted accordingly (Barbour, 2018). Instead of rewarding undocumented immigrants who violate visa terms and enter the country illegally, the U.S. should punish them fully, and deport them back to their country of origin. Doing so will show others who intend to commit the same crime that they will receive the same outcome.
The U.S. should also consistently communicate the dangers of illegal immigration, and work with foreign governments to strengthen their economies, which often cause the unrest that leads to illegal immigration (Saldana, 2018). Additionally, the U.S. should diligently work to reward those who follow the entry requirements by supplying a path to citizenship (Barbour, 2018). Another policy the U.S. could pursue is to reinstate existing policies that keep asylum seekers in Mexico rather than allow them to live in the U.S. while they await the status of their asylum claim from the U.S. courts (Reimann, 2021). The U.S. Congress should implement all of these measures and seek to eliminate the State’s ability to provide sanctuary status if they want to reduce the impact of illegal immigration and make a positive impact on the border security crisis.
It is extremely important to advocate the necessity for the United States to implement advanced technologies and robust policies to combat the surge of illegal immigration, while simultaneously improving the southern border region, and tracking and deporting individuals who overstayed the terms of their visas. Visa overstays account for two-thirds of the undocumented immigrants within the United States. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its subordinate entities including Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) must be better equipped to track, detain, and remove legal entries and visa overstays.
Additionally, the U.S. Congress must implement laws that restrict States from providing sanctuary status, implement punitive measures for overstays, and expedite the deportation process. To improve the southern border region, the U.S. should continue the construction of the border wall and improve existing infrastructure to include checkpoints and observation posts. Finally, the immediate investment in advanced technology like radars, sensors, and drones is crucial to solving the problem of unauthorized crossing in areas where the physical construction of a border wall is unfeasible. Due to the complex nature of illegal immigration in the U.S., it takes a whole government approach to make a positive impact on this ever-changing problem.
President Joe Biden inspects the border with border patrol officers. 8 January 2023. Source.
Alden, E. (2012). Immigration and border control. CATO Journal, 32(1), 107-124. https://eds-s-ebscohost-com.vlib.excelsior.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=6&sid=7d89af84-93b4-4147-bd35-a0209b63aa4c%40redis
Barbour, H. (2018). The U.S. should prosecute illegal immigration as it does other laws. Time Magazine, 192(1), 34. https://eds-s-ebscohost-com.vlib.excelsior.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=6&sid=364ebb90-e444-475b-8a4e-72543806bf51%40redis
Brandys, R. R., Laurent, N. P., & Knox, B. A. (2018). United States-Mexico Border Wall: The past, the present and what may come. Real Property, Trust & Estate Law Journal, 53(1), 131-162. https://eds-p-ebscohost-com.vlib.excelsior.edu/eds/detail/detail?vid=4&sid=c421d9fd-05d4-4f17-a7d2-1e78f95535e6%40redis&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#AN=edsjsr.27008625&db=edsjsr
Brown, R. (2022). The new “Sanctuary State”: United States V. California and lessons for comprehensive immigration reform. Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, 55(1), 185-229. https://eds-p-ebscohost-com.vlib.excelsior.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=2&sid=054cfb33-05b5-4630-843f-c655adce2f28%40redis
Cholakian, H. (2017). Computers over concrete: How technology will revamp immigration and security systems. Harvard International Review. 39(4), 26-29. https://hir.harvard.edu/immigration-security-system/
Koslowski, R., & Schulzke, M. (2018). Drones along borders: Border security UAVs in the United States and the European Union. International Studies Perspectives, 19(4), 305–324. https://doi.org/10.1093/isp/eky002
Reimann, N. (2021). Biden administration again seeks end to Trump’s “Remain In Mexico” Policy. Forbes.Com. https://eds-p-ebscohost-com.vlib.excelsior.edu/eds/detail/detail?vid=6&sid=5a8adb4f-a3c3-478f-999e-03daea698226%40redis&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#AN=153309828&db=bth
Saldana, S. (2018). A costly distraction. Time Magazine, 192(1), 34. https://eds-s-ebscohost-com.vlib.excelsior.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=10&sid=364ebb90-e444-475b-8a4e-72543806bf51%40redis
U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2019). Review of the fiscal year 2017 entry/exit overstay report. https://eds-p-ebscohost-com.vlib.excelsior.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=5&sid=1d37a449-6cd7-47cf-a8da-4e9edb7d1339%40redis
Warren, R., & Kerwin, D. (2017). The 2,000 mile wall in search of a purpose: Since 2007 visa overstays have outnumbered undocumented border crossers by half a million. Journal on Migration and Human Security, 5(1), 124-136. https://eds-p-ebscohost-com.vlib.excelsior.edu/eds/detail/detail?vid=9&sid=c421d9fd-05d4-4f17-a7d2-1e78f95535e6%40redis&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#AN=125223798&db=edb
Wilson, J. R. (2018). The role of technology in securing the nation’s borders. Military & Aerospace Electronics, 29(10), 10-21. https://eds-p-ebscohost-com.vlib.excelsior.edu/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=6&sid=391b3c7c-047f-4928-a00f-7d84965a1807%40redis
Master Sergeant Daniel L. Dodds is a Military Police Senior Noncommissioned Officer. He has served in every leadership position, from Patrolman to Antiterrorism/ Force Protection Supervisor. He is currently attending the Sergeants Major Course (Resident) Class 73 at the US Army Noncommissioned Officer Leadership Center of Excellence. His civilian education includes an Associate Degree from Excelsior University, and he is pursuing his Bachelor of Arts in Leadership and Workforce Development from the Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC).
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