Spending climbs into billions, but skepticism grows
Fueled by worries about terrorism, illegal immigration and drug smuggling, U.S. spending for border security is skyrocketing, but critics complain that much of the money is being wasted.
A recent study by Frost & Sullivan's aerospace and defense group found that border security has become a multi-billion dollar industry. "Revenue in this market totaled $5.99 billion per year in 2004 and is estimated to reach $8.1 billion by 2011," the study said.
For virtually its entire history, the United States has struggled to secure the nearly 7,000 miles of porous borders separating it from Mexico to the south and Canada to the north.
"This, however, is not an easy task," Mathew Farr, Frost & Sullivan's lead homeland security analyst, told National Defense. "Border security initiatives are difficult to implement, expensive and always carry the risk of political ramifications."
The federal government, for example, has tried in recent years to develop electronic systems of cameras and sensors to detect and identify border intrusions.
The newest effort got underway in April, when the Department of Homeland security - which is responsible for controlling entry into the United States - issued a request for proposals for a $2.5 billion program intended to integrate existing infrastructure and new technologies into a single, all-inclusive border protection system.
The new system is part of a "secure border initiative," a multiyear plan launched in 2005 by DHS secretary Michael Chertoff. Its goal is to bring U.S borders under operational control within five years.
"We cannot hermetically seal 7,000 miles of land borders and keep out 100 percent of illegal crossers," Chertoff said. "But we can create such a high likelihood of interdiction that it will have a strong and unequivocal deterrent effect on those who wish to cross illegally."
Gaining control of the borders requires focuses on all aspects of the problem deterrence, detection, apprehension, detention and removal, he said.
The plan calls for more enforcement agents, expanded detention and removal facilities, enhanced physical security infrastructure, and a major upgrade in border control technology. In 2007, DHS plans to add 1,500 additional Border Patrol agents, continue the construction of the San Diego border fence, build permanent vehicle barriers in the Western Arizona Desert, install 6,700 more beds in detention centers, and spend $100 million to begin an integrated border surveillance system known as SBInet.
"Through SBInet, the department intends to create a comprehensive border security system that transforms, integrates and expands technology and infrastructure to reduce illegal entry into the United States," Chertoff told reporters. "What are we talking about? We're talking about stuff like unmanned aerial vehicles, satellite imagery, sensors, cameras that are computer-programmed to be able to operate based on algorithms that identify certain kinds of movements ...
"All of these systems, if integrated together, allow us to create a force multiplier for the Border Patrol, taking the ... assets we have and making them more effective to intercept and apprehend those people who are crossing the border illegally," Chertoff said. "That's the bottom line: identifying, disrupting and dismantling organizations that are bringing people illegally into this country."
Thus far, however, lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been skeptical. "We've been at this juncture before," Rep. Harold Rogers, R-Ky., chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, told DHS officials during an April hearing. "We have been presented with expensive proposals elaborate border technology that have eventually proven to be ineffective and wasteful systems."
As examples, Rogers named the integrated surveillance system and America's shield initiative. …