The Impact of DHS on U.S. Border Security, Capstone Project Example
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Introduction: the Problem of DHS
The preamble to the United States Constitution declares that the federal government will, among other duties and responsibilities, “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Among the ways in which the U.S. government has sought to “insure domestic tranquility” is through the protection and security of the nation’s borders, ports, and other points of entry. The United States government has taken a number of important steps to control the security of the nation’s borders in various ways and through the aegis of different agencies and organizations. The establishment of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 saw the federal government expanding its reach significantly, as it brought a number of different agencies under one roof, making DHS ultimately responsible for all issues related to border security and other aspects of domestic security. The following discussion will explore the manner in which the DHS has impacted border security concerns from a law enforcement perspective.
Factors Bearing on the Problem
As the current Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano prepares to step down, the incoming Secretary will face the staggering responsibility of attempting to reduce the expenses of the DHS while continuing the work of developing effective means of securing and protecting the nation’s borders. Primary issues to consider are as follows:
- DHS Structure: to structure the agency in a manner to make it more efficient and productive
- The Challenges of Securing U.S. Borders: an attempt to balance safe borders while also facilitating efficient commerce and trade
- Establishing Priorities: efficiently align priorities between antiterrorism, illegal immigration, trade and commerce, utilizing resources and agencies to fulfill this mission
- The U.S. –Mexico Border: identify problems associated with Cartels and illegal immigration
- The U.S.-Canada Border: recognize how to balance trade with Canada and prohibit terrorist activities
The Department of Homeland Security: History and Background
In February 2001, the Committee on National Security (alternately known as the Hart-Rudman Commission) issued a controversial report regarding the state of U.S. national and domestic security. The report was largely an indictment of the federal government’s approach to domestic security issues, warning that the nation was ill prepared for and poorly protected against terrorist attacks and other threats to national and domestic security that might occur (Lanthrop and Eaglen, 2001). Among the nation’s most notable vulnerabilities were cyber-attacks against both private and public computer networks and communications systems, as well as the nation’s porous borders that potentially made it easy for terrorist operatives to enter the country for the purpose of planning and carrying out attacks on U.S. soil. The primary recommendation offered by Hart-Rudman was the development of a new cabinet-level department to oversee issues related to domestic security, and this department would, serve as an umbrella organization under which the disparate federal agencies responsible for domestic security would operate (Lanthrop and Eaglen).
While the Hart-Rudman report prompted little response from the federal government or the fledgling administration of President George W. Bush, the events of September 11 of that year spurred the President into immediate action, with the report serving as a primer for the subsequent development of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002. Following the recommendations of the Hart-Rudman report, 22 federal agencies would be directly supervised under the direction of the new DHS. The creation of DHS served as the single largest establishment of a federal department since the Department of Defense (HSDBC, 2013); concomitantly, a new cabinet-level position, the Secretary of Homeland Security, was created. Among the primary responsibilities of the newly formed DHS was border security, and several different agencies that oversaw various aspects of border-security issues merged into the new department of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Along with ICE, the Office of Field Operations and the U.S. Border Patrol (USBP) are also responsible for the oversight of a number of issues related to border security, and the USBP has grown to encompass the largest number of law enforcement officers of any state or federal agency in the nation (Siegel and Worrall, 2013).
The enormity of the responsibilities conferred on DHS, combined with the inherent complications involved in the development of one of the largest federal agencies in U.S. history, have led to a number of significant problems both for DHS and for the sub-departments for which it is responsible. DHS has spent enormous sums of money in its quest to develop new agencies to provide border security and to establish effective and efficient means of communication and cooperation between existing agencies. As DHS witnessed its tenth anniversary, critics of the organization insist that the department is a bloated and unwieldy bureaucracy that has done far too little with the resources at its disposal to secure and protect the nation’s borders (Barry, 2011).
The following sections will provide an overview of several of the key issues DHS faces, followed by recommendations and suggestions for how DHS could transform into a leaner, more effective, and more efficient organization.
Perhaps the single most significant issue related to the development of DHS is that its primary objective is to bring together almost two dozen different government agencies under one overarching organizational umbrella. Prior to the merger, these were autonomous organizations, as each had evolved and adhered to its own organizational culture, operating procedures, command structure, and set of directives and purposes (Gaines and Miller, 2004). The task of converting such previously autonomous agencies and organizations into the sub-components of a larger organization has been fraught with problems. Among the issues that have plagued DHS have been jurisdictional turf wars, funding mandates, inter- and intra-departmental communication, and overlapping or redundant agency functions. The logistics of dividing responsibilities and assigning jurisdictional duties to existing and newly minted agencies was daunting for the leadership of DHS at all levels, from those responsible for managing the individual sub-agencies to the positions of Secretary and Undersecretary of Homeland Security (dhs.gov/news 2009). In order to provide insight into the challenges faced by DHS leadership, the following sections will offer brief overviews on several of those sub-agencies responsible for marinating the security of U.S. borders.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
The Homeland Security Act (HAS) of 2002 officially established the Department of Homeland Security, and by the following spring DHS was fully operational. The HAS gave the DHS responsibility for border security, a task which had previously been divided up among agencies, such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the U.S. Border Patrol (house.gov, 2006). As the functions of these and other agencies were absorbed by DHS, several new departments were created, including the U.S. Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). ICE is responsible for investigating “immigration crime, human rights violations and human smuggling, smuggling of narcotics, weapons and other types of contraband, financial crimes, cybercrime and export enforcement issues (http://www.ice.gov). ICE special agents conduct investigations aimed at protecting critical infrastructure industries that are vulnerable to sabotage, attack or exploitation. In addition to these responsibilities, ICE must identify, detain, and deport illegal immigrants and others who have either entered or stayed in the U.S. illegally or beyond their immigration visas or travel credentials.
ICE has two primary sub-agencies: the first is Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the second is Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO). HSI is responsible for conducting investigations related to possible terrorist attacks and other threats against the nation, monitoring and abating potential border vulnerabilities, and identifying and responding to threats against the nation’s infrastructure, transportation capabilities, ports, and other points of entry. ERO is the sub-agency of ICE that is responsible for identifying, detaining, or deporting illegal aliens and other illegal immigrants. With the combined forces and responsibilities of ICE, it is the nation’s second-largest law enforcement agency (Siegel and Worrall, 2013).
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
U.S. Customs and Border Protection was established legislatively by the HSA and was one of several new departments created as part of the new DHS. CBP is responsible for the oversight of international trade between the U.S. and other nations; enforces laws and regulations related to import taxes and tariffs; and regulates U.S. immigration (house.gov, 2006). CBP is the agency responsible for the physical protection of the nation’s borders and is tasked with the interdiction of illegal drugs, weapons and other contraband, and also ensuring that individuals entering the U.S. possess the proper paperwork and do not have criminal records that would make them ineligible for entry.
Other Relevant Agencies
Along with the creation of ICE and CBP, the Homeland Security Act mandated the creation of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). While the TSA is ostensibly responsible for oversight of all facets of mass transportation in the U.S., it has largely focused on air travel (Siegel and Worrall, 2013). The Federal Air Marshall Service, which functions as a sub-agency to the TSA, monitors the safety of passengers aboard commercial airplanes, while TSA agents are responsible for screening passengers, luggage, and cargo bound for air transport and securing the safety of commercial airports. Other agencies, many of which were extant prior to the development of DHS are responsible for other aspects of border security. Among these are organizations such as the U.S. Coast Guard, which patrols U.S. waterways; monitors and protects the safety of commercial and passenger port traffic; interdicts drug and contraband shipments; and protects against the entry of illegal immigrants through seaports and other waterways.
The Challenges of Securing U.S. Borders
While there are many practical challenges and considerations related to protecting the security of U.S. borders, the primary challenge is philosophical and ideological. The United States has, throughout its history, has significantly benefited from its openness in terms of immigration, trade, and travel. As compared to many other nations both past and present, the U.S. has always had relatively open borders. However, such openness has made it all too easy for criminal organizations, terrorist operatives, and other nefarious groups and individuals to take advantage of the nation’s relatively porous borders (Andreopoulos, 2013). The overriding concern of DHS and its sub-departments and agencies is to strike the appropriate balance between maintaining the freedom and openness that has long characterized the United States, while also ensuring that groups and individuals that wish to commit crimes or otherwise inflict harm on the nation are stopped from entering the country or are identified, detained, or deported if they manage to slip through the border (ASC 2010). With so many different points of entry, coupled with the relative ease with which individuals or goods can pass through the nation’s borders, it is clear that the task of maintaining border security is daunting.
Although the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are the primary reason for the DHS; there are other issues of concern in terms of border security. Thwarting acts of terrorism is high on the list of priorities for the agencies charged with protecting the borders. As the Hart-Rudman report of 2001 emphasized, the U.S. borders are vulnerable for many reasons, including the problems associated with the illicit drug trade; the issue of human smuggling and the international sex trade; and the sale and transport of contraband ranging from weapons to counterfeit products (ice.gov, n.d.). Each of these issues costs the U.S. billions of dollars per year in terms of investigation and interdiction costs, lost tax revenue, the economic effects of undocumented workers, and other financial and political costs (house.gov, 2006).
The U.S. –Mexico Border
Nowhere is the United States more vulnerable in terms of border security than along the 2000-mile stretch of land it shares with its southern neighbor Mexico. Hundreds and hundreds of miles along this border are virtually unprotected, and while agents of the CBP patrol vast areas of this border, it is impractical for these agents to be in all areas at the same time, leaving huge expanses of land open to the movement of people and contraband across the border. The drug cartels of Mexico and Central and South America, in particular, have capitalized on U.S. vulnerability along the U.S.-Mexican border, and tons of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs are smuggled into the U.S. every year (fbi.gov, n.d.).
Even in areas where the border crossings between the U.S. and Mexico are relatively strict, drug cartels and other international and transnational criminal organizations (ICOs and TCOs) have found ways to circumvent border security. In recent decades, border security agencies have discovered hundreds of underground tunnels running from Mexico to the U.S., and some of these tunnels are remarkably sophisticated, including lighting, ventilation systems, and even rails on which small rail cars filled with drugs or people have moved across the border (house.gov, 2006). In many instances, the entrances and exits to such tunnels are built inside warehouses and other buildings on either side of the border. Illicit activities inside these warehouses are often camouflaged by above-board legal activities, such as those found in furniture manufacturers, shipping companies, and other businesses that typically occupy the types of buildings that are also well-suited to such smuggling operations. As long as the visible activities of the businesses appear to be legal, it is enormously difficult for law enforcement agencies to identify those that are fronts for illegal activity (fbi.gov, n.d.).
Drug smugglers have found other inventive ways to avoid U.S. border security. For example, they use small, lightweight submersible watercraft, or miniature submarines, to move drugs from Mexico into the U.S., often surfacing at small, private docks and other points of entry that are not monitored by border security (fbi.gov, n.d.). With so many unprotected miles of border on land and at sea, it is often simple for these ICOs and TCOs to move large quantities of drugs across the border in a matter of minutes. By one account, even if border security forces interdict 90 percent of all drug shipments, drug cartels can still turn a profit.
The smuggling of human beings is of equal or perhaps even greater concern. The issue of illegal aliens entering the U.S. in search of employment has been a social, political, and economic issue for the U.S., and some states, such as Texas and Arizona, have asserted that the problem of illegal immigration is overwhelming their capacity to support and maintain strong economic growth and a strong social infrastructure (governor.state.tx, 2012). Of even greater concern to DHS and other border security agencies, however, is the possibility that terrorist operatives could enter the U.S. across the U.S.-Mexico border. The individuals identified as the primary suspects in the attacks of 9/11 entered the country legally, though some had overstayed the limits of their visas. Border security and immigration scrutiny has tightened in the wake of 9/11, and it has become an increasing worrisome for law enforcement officials that future terrorist operatives may elect to enter the country illegally or take advantage of the looser restrictions and requirements for obtaining travel documents in some Latin American countries to utilize falsified identities or other means of subverting the immigration system at U.S. borders (Andreopoulos, 2013).
The U.S.-Canada Border
The Canadian border also poses problems for U.S officials. In the wake of 9/11, travel between the U.S. and Canada slowed as heightened scrutiny and increased restrictions on passage for individuals and for shipments of goods went into effect. Concurrent with the post-9/11 investigations of border crossings, however, law enforcement officials came across evidence that TCOs with ties to the Middle East were using the route between Canada and Detroit to smuggle pseudoephedrine, one of the primary ingredients in the manufacture of methamphetamine (Gaines and Miller, 2004). The discovery of such evidence served to highlight the need to balance open trade borders with securing those borders against the movement of contraband.
In short, the term “border security” is remarkably deceptive, as it is a seemingly simple term that in actuality encompasses a wide-ranging number of factors, issues, and challenges for law enforcement. The development of the DHS continues to be a monumental task, fraught with controversy, disagreement, and inter- and intra-departmental infighting. Even a cursory examination of the responsibilities of the sub-agencies of DHS makes it easy to understand why the evolution of DHS has been slow, expensive, and often ineffective. In order to determine what course of action could potentially serve to make DHS a more effective and efficient organization, it is necessary to examine the challenges it has faced and the various factors that have stunted its growth and underpinned its success.
Criticism of DHS
The current Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, recently asked if she had any advice for her successor, and she noted that “You will need a large bottle of Advil” (AP, 2013). Given the scale and scope of DHS’ responsibilities, it is hardly surprising that Napolitano views the position of Secretary of Homeland Security as headache-inducing. Whomever permanently succeeds Napolitano will be faced with the task of overseeing one of the nation’s largest governmental organizations and will be confronted with the challenge of cleaning up an organization that critics say is simply too big, too expensive, and ultimately ineffective. The primary questions for the next head of DHS will be whether or not such criticisms are fair and accurate, and if so, what can be done to improve DHS and make it a more effective and efficient organization.
Among the chief complaints of DHS critics is that it simply put, a black hole into which hundreds of billions of dollars thrown and from which few successes drawn. In September 2011, on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, investigative journalist Tom Barry issued a scathing report on DHS entitled “Border Security After 9/11: Ten Years of Waste, Immigrant Crackdowns and New Drug Wars.” In this report, Barry recounts what he sees as a litany of failures on the part of DHS, and the federal, state, and local agencies and organizations over which it presides. According to Barry, “(the issue of) ‘border security’ constitutes the single largest line item in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget; nonetheless, DHS has failed to develop a border security strategy that complements U.S. domestic and national security objectives” (Barry, 2011).
The primary criticisms of DHS are that it developed too quickly, has grown too large, and is far too expensive. These criticisms all have merit, as there is little room for argument that DHS was created so swiftly at least in part, to provide political cover for the Bush administration and other lawmakers who were in office on September 11, 2001. There is ample evidence that lawmakers and the president were given both general and specific warnings regarding the threat posed by Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden (Siegel and Worrall, 2013). Concomitant criticisms regarding the vast sums of money spent by DHS are also valid, as the Government Accounting Office has raised alarms about the near-total inability of DHS to account for much of what it has spent in the last decade.
Border Security Agencies and Jurisdictional Turf Wars
The very task of defining the term “borders” –let alone the term “border security”- is increasingly difficult in the 21st Century. Traditionally, borders were the geographical lines that divided states, but in the age of globalization, these lines have become blurred beyond recognition. From an international perspective, the state is still the strongest political and economic entity, but states have had to contend with various extra-governmental usurpations of power and sovereignty. The physical borders that used to divide states have become irrelevant as the advent of the Internet and digital communication have made it possible for global organizations in various sectors –political, economic, and even military- function and interact with each other largely without interference from the states (Andreopoulos, 2013).
This global technological evolution has also made it possible for criminal and terrorist organizations to operate and communicate in new ways, which creates new challenges for law enforcement. When a potential terrorist or criminal has the capacity to communicate with like-minded individuals and organizations virtually anywhere else on the planet in real time, the historical constraints of physical borders are virtually irrelevant. Contemporary law enforcement agencies must contend with the security and protection of the physical borders while monitoring and securing the virtual borders of cyberspace. This phenomenon creates massive jurisdictional and logistical headaches for the various departments, agencies, and organizations involved in providing border security.
The National Security Agency –the activities of which have dominated news headlines in recent weeks- is largely responsible for monitoring Internet and other forms of digital communication for signs of possible terrorist activity (Siegel and Worrall, 2013). This does not mean, however, that ICE cannot or does not also monitor Internet activity of targeted individuals and organizations. Nonetheless, it provides a clear example of how easily the functions and responsibilities of various departments and agencies can overlap or become unnecessarily redundant. Add to that list the countless state, regional, and local law-enforcement agencies that operate throughout the U.S. and the possibilities become staggering. In addition, that is just a consideration of the in-border functions of DHS and other agencies and departments. In the age of globalization, the need for international and transnational cooperation becomes paramount and creates a mountain of logistical and jurisdictional considerations that seems insurmountable.
The reactionary fervor which underpinned the sift development of DHS and the creation of sub-departments such as ICE seems to have infected the entire organizational culture of DHS. In hindsight, it may have been a poor decision to dismantle the Immigration and Naturalization Service and create new departments such as ICE and CBP at the same time as DHS created. What has sprouted from the seed of the idea for an overarching federal domestic-security department has been a massive, wasteful, and often-redundant bureaucracy that has had to function in the real world. It became swiftly apparent to leaders at DHS that inter-agency and inter-departmental communication was of paramount concern. With the newly created agencies functioning in the context of their individual organizational cultures, jurisdictional capacities, and methodological capacities, one early common complaint was that these agencies and departments were not adequately communicating and sharing information with each other (Cole, Smith and DeJong, 2013). In response to what should have been a foreseeable problem, DHS began to create what are known as “fusion centers.”
Simply put, fusion centers are small sub-organizations whose purpose is to facilitate communication and information sharing between and among the DHS sub-departments, and between DHS and other law enforcement agencies (Cole, Smith and DeJong, 2013). Fusion centers act as liaisons between organizations in smoothing over various organizational barriers and divides that have been at the heart of much of DHS’ bureaucratic dysfunction.
Follow the Money
The 2011 budget for DHS was $43.2 billion (taxpayer.net, 2013), a staggering sum by any measure, but especially for an agency that is, in terms of its stated mission, largely functional as an oversight department for the 22 federal agencies under its aegis. According to the GAO, it has classified DHS as “high risk” since 2003, reporting that “DHS has been unable to obtain an audit opinion on its internal controls over financial reporting due to material weaknesses in internal controls, and much work remains to modernize components’ financial management systems. Without sound controls and systems, DHS faces long-term challenges in obtaining and sustaining an audit opinion on internal controls over financial reporting, and ensuring its financial management systems generate reliable, useful, and timely information for day-to-day decision making” (gao.gov/key_issues/dhs). The GAO report continues as follows: “failure to effectively address DHS’s management and mission risks could have serious consequences for U.S. national and economic security.” As inadequate interdepartmental communication continues to plague DHS and its budget problems are mounting, the new Secretary of Homeland Security will face enormous pressures and challenges. While there is no single way in which all of DHS’ problems can be solved, it is clear that cutting to the heart of the bureaucratic and logistical entanglements must be the first order of business.
Proposal for the Next Secretary of Homeland Security: a National Fusion Center
There are, of course, a number of broad, sweeping changes that should be made at DHS. For example, a complete, top-down systemic audit of every sub-department and agency within DHS is essential. Identifying how and where money is being spent will go a long way in allowing DHS leadership to identify areas of overlap, redundancy, and waste. While such an audit could be enormously helpful in terms of providing needed information for future decision making, it will, by itself, not be enough to change the organizational culture of DHS. A new, top-down means is necessary in order to ensure that each sub-department of DHS, as well as all outside agencies with which DHS coordinate efforts, are adequately sharing information, avoiding redundancy, and cooperating in regards to jurisdictional issues.
It may seem counterintuitive to propose the creation of a new sub-department as a means of countering the roiling, out-of-control spending and bureaucratic growth at DHS. It is time for DHS to conduct both a financial and an organizational audit and to make the necessary changes to counter the systemic problems it faces. The development of a national-level fusion center responsible for ensuring that each sub-department is effectively coordinating and communicating with other agencies is not just a stop-gap measure; it is, in fact, the very core of DHS’ proposed mission. The next Secretary of Homeland Security will be faced with monumental challenges, but none will be more important than getting at the root of most of these problems. The next Secretary must willing to face the task of overhauling one of the nation’s largest bureaucracies not just for the sake of the bureaucracy, but for the sake of the nation.
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