Lost amid the near-daily complaints about the Trump Administration’s attempt to secure America’s southern border is the fact that, by every metric, illegal border crossings have dropped significantly in recent months, because crossing is no longer as easy as it once was.
During April 2020, according to the U.S. Border Patrol, fewer than 16,000 people tried to illegally enter the U.S., including:
- 14,524 single adults (down ~39% from March 2020)
- 734 unaccompanied minors (down ~75% from March)
- 604 families (down ~82% from March)
According to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 80% of entrants were deported within about two hours due to pandemic-related health orders that allow for expedited removals. This is key to maintaining the health and safety of law enforcement, legal migrants, illegal migrants in detention, America’s border communities, and the overall population of the United States.
Even after President Trump suspended all legal immigration to the United States in late April, unauthorized border crossings failed to increase. One would think that this moratorium would spur a flurry of illegal immigration in the second half of April. But it appears that a strong border policy has deterred would-be crossers from even attempting the journey. No doubt the weak economy was a factor too.
The Border Patrol has not reduced its presence due to self-quarantine. The opposite is true: because the U.S. and Mexico have agreed to reduce legal but non-essential border crossings at ports of entry, there are now more Border agents available to stop illegal crossings of the southern border.
The Trump administration has consistently and effectively increased control over the U.S.-Mexico border. Setting the border wall aside for the moment, this has been done through a combination of heightening the presence of law enforcement and newly-installed advanced technology. As the physical barriers slowly make progress toward securing the border, agents are making it far more difficult for illegal migrants to enter the U.S., and technology is making it easier for agents to do their jobs.
As part of the President’s efforts to combat COVID-19, three thousand Department of Defense (DoD) personnel have been deployed to the southern border to assist in reducing illegal immigration as well as drug & human trafficking. These troops are prohibited from interdiction of illegal border crossers – that work must be performed by Border Patrol agents.
While on the border, these troops and other DoD personnel have had the opportunity to see first-hand how the Border Patrol protects the international boundary with state-of-the-art security technologies such as Integrated Fixed Towers, Relocatable Towers, smart ISR vehicles known as MVSS & M2S2, Command & Control (C2) centers, and walls with integrated intrusion detection technologies. What these troops observe in border protection technology could be utilized by DoD to secure its own bases and critical infrastructure, and provide physical security to troops both at home and overseas. Similar technologies and systems could be used to protect and defend U.S. military bases in Afghanistan or Syria from similarly unwanted intrusions.
If DHS and DoD were able to jointly procure common technologies and solutions for border and base security, they would benefit from common training, common Integrated Logistics Support (ILS), economic order quantity buys of components, and common contracting.
There is precedent for this cross-agency collaboration. Starting in 2014, the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO) developed a dual ground and air radar for the Customs Border Patrol to track dismounted illegal immigrants, associated land vehicles and aerial drug transport vehicles such as ultralights that were illegally crossing the southwest border. The Man-portable Aerial Radar System – Kit (MARS-K) was then further developed by CTTSO, in conjunction with DoD operators, adding optics and jammers to make the first C-UAS system known as the Man-portable Anti-Drone System Kit (MADS-K). This is good example of how DoD and CBP have worked together to develop technologies used by operators in both organizations.
With strong support from the administration, Congress and the Federal Reserve to reinvigorate the U.S. economy and employment as a result of COVID-19, discretionary funding is going to become both limited and critical. Looking for cross-agency opportunities to collaborate on programs, thereby creating program savings, is going to become essential going forward.
Some of the game-changing technologies the Border Patrol enjoys, and DoD should consider adopting, include:
- Integrated Fixed Towers: The IFT system provides detection and identification of items of interest enabling Border Patrol agents to more efficiently and effectively respond to border incursions. Each IFT consists of a tower equipped with a suite of sensors including radar, electro-optical and infrared surveillance cameras, necessary power generation and communications equipment, capable of continuously detecting and tracking items of interest
- Autonomous Relocatable Towers: These trailer-mounted surveillance towers are the latest high-tech innovation that Border Patrol agents are looking to in order to help them patrol the Southwest border, agency officials said. These are mobile versions of the IFT, using the same sensor payloads equipped by the fixed-towers and can support multi-missions
- Mobile Modular Surveillance Systems (M2S2): These are vehicular systems that also leverage the radar, optics (day & night), laser range finders, and the same communications equipment use by IFT and the relocatable towers to continuously detect and track people and vehicles of interest. Mounted in pickup trucks with an extended lift system, these vehicles provide extended coverage and rapid relocation for CBP agents. These systems are well suited for monitoring hard-to-reach locations or areas with special environmental sensitivity
- Command & Control (C2) Centers: Sensors provide a common operating picture that correlates and displays all items of interest detected from one or many inputs along the border. Automation techniques that utilize artificial intelligence (AI) facilitate identification and classification of the intrusion detected by the sensors. The results are automatically presented to the agent dispatch systems and communicated to the agents in the field on wireless devices. The goal is to only present the information which requires attention so agents can accurately and efficiently respond and resolve border incursions
- Tunneling detection: This technology provides capabilities to detect and locate clandestine tunnels and the ability to perform forensic analysis of a detected tunnel to support investigations and prosecution. This enhanced capability will keep hundreds of tons of drugs off U.S. streets while saving thousands of CBP labor hours. For example, the Advanced Technology Systems Company has been supporting U.S. Central Command with tunnel detection border surveillance technologies. ATSC’s Intelligent Fiber-Optic Intrusion Detection System deploys buried fiber optic cables to detect, localize and identify multiple intrusions.
As the defense budget presumably shrinks in the wake of the massive government spending used to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, DoD and DHS should take every opportunity to collaborate, with an eye towards saving money by cross-agency collaboration, and cooperatively building new technologies needed to counter existing and future U.S. infrastructure protection challenges.
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