Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico

Chaos and Clutter: Complexities of Border Security in the United States *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of the United States, Canada and Mexico

Chaos and Clutter: Complexities of Border Security in the United States *

Article excerpt


Immigration is a topic that has been on the American political agenda as long as the country has existed and currently seems to be the center of policy debate. The issue ebbs and flows in approach to the point that immigration policy has been likened to a revolving door, sometimes welcoming people in, sometimes aiming to keep them out (Andreas, 2009; Alden, 2012). The past thirty-five years have generally seen policy movements to close this door - a hardening of U.S. immigration and border security. The movement has been characterized as a drastic increase in manpower, resources, and money going into border efforts. The notion of controlling the borders of the United States, for much of our history, has been based on immigration concerns not homeland security threats. Thus, for most of our history it has been important that we control our borders, but not essential (Andreas, 2009). Border security is a concept the United States has pursued in earnest since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and continues to be a focus for many Americans.

None of the known terrorists involved with the attacks of September 11, 2001 were thought to have entered the United States illegally, but the events of that day marked a significant shift from illegal immigration to border security (Alden, 2012). The fact that the terrorists were foreign nationals became a concern for 'middle America' changing the political drive for border control efforts. As a result, an ideological shift occurred on how external borders are viewed and treated. The shift has connected the nation's borders to terrorism placing a heavier emphasis on border security (Manjarrez, 2015). The topic was a central point of debate in the United States' 2016 Presidential election and is assuredly going to take center stage in the public conscience as a heavily discoursed topic in the foreseeable future. As a complex and often emotional topic, border security efforts will almost certainly begin with an emphasis on the campaign promise of building a "border wall" between the United States and Mexico.

The purpose of this chapter is to attempt to make sense of the last three and a half decades of policy and border security strategy as a prologue for future security efforts. This chapter is segmented into four sections. First, a review of the motives for the implementation of physical border barriers in El Paso, Texas and San Diego, California in the early 1990's is presented. Second, the transition from border control to border security efforts after the September 11, 2001 terrorist's attacks is discussed. Third, the inclusion of physical border barriers as a critical element of the United States Border Patrol strategy is examined. Finally, I conclude with a discussion on the expectations of our nation's border security efforts to include the role of border barriers in these expectations.

Motives for Increased Border Enforcement

The North American Free Trade Agreement Influence

Concerns over illegal immigration led many in the early 1990's to consider the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) a failure (Alden, 2012; Longmire, 2014). The legislation had legalized millions of illegal aliens living in the United States without much of a visible increase in border control efforts (Martin, 1994). As a result of the ensuing public sentiment, border enforcement began to see a paradigm shift on how operations would be conducted and how 'middle America' viewed immigration and border enforcement. The shift was due to the realization by 'middle America' that the nation had porous borders. The realization led to questions regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that were not easily answered (Alden, 2012; Longmire, 2014; Hernandez, 2010). An unattended consequence of NAFTA illustrated how porous the U.S.Mexico border really was while forcing the door open for increased immigration. The increase of legal cross-border commercial traffic, due to NAFTA, created the political drive to portray a sense of order on the border (Ackleson, 2005). …

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