Border Security: Adapting Strategies to an Evolving Threat

Border Security: Adapting Strategies to an Evolving Threat

March 2016

No one cares more about the security of the U.S.-Mexican border than those of us who live here. As public officials, business owners and families in the border region, we see how quickly our security needs evolve as the threats change. A successful border security solution needs to defeat the threat with the most effective security strategies while preparing to meet the threat as it changes.

In securing the border, the enemy is the transnational drug syndicates: the Sinaloa and Jalisco Cartels, Los Zetas, the Knights Templar, and the Beltrán Leyva Cartel. They command major parts of the Mexican side of the border, controlling the transport of billions of dollars of worth of illegal drugs and the smuggling of human beings across the border illegally.

In many cases, our generals are fighting the last war, focusing on strategies to combat a threat that is now moved on while ignoring the new, greater danger in other locations.

Any analyst must first divide the border threat the way the government has for generations, between the legal entry points (or ports of entry) and the vast spaces between them. One government police force, the blue uniformed Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents, guard the ports of entry. Between the ports, the Border Patrol is the nation’s police agency.

The threat of the past existed between the legal border crossing points, including the Mojave, Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts and along the Rio Grande River in Texas. That is where most Mexican immigrants once entered the United States illegally, a pattern that is now in steep decline. A Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from the U.S. and Mexico shows that from 2009 to 2014 more Mexican immigrants have returned to Mexico than have come of the U.S. The analysis also shows the overall flow of Mexican immigrants between the two countries is at its smallest since the 1990s, mostly due to a drop in the number of Mexican immigrants coming to the U.S.

The principal drug of smuggled across the U.S.-Mexico border for decades was marijuana. In fiscal year 2015, marijuana accounted for 99 percent of illegal drugs seized by the border patrol between the southwest legal border crossings. At the same time, marijuana confiscations in 2015 dropped to their lowest point in over a decade, down from 4 million pounds in 2009 to only 1.5 million pounds in 2015.

At the same time, over three-quarters of the heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine smuggled into the U.S. enters through legal entry points at the land ports of entry. This illegal trade, which is estimated to bring the cartels about $40 billion in annual revenue, operates with far better technology, intelligence and mobility than the U.S. government agents employ to prevent it.

As is evidenced by the heroine epidemic across the U.S., the traffic in heroine (and methamphetamine and cocaine) continues to rise.

As the cartels’ point of attack has moved from between the ports to the legal entry points, political discussions still focus on meeting the old threat by building walls and hiring more Border Patrol agents.

Solving the border security problem requires fighting the cartels where they are fighting us: at the legal border entry points. Winning the fight means hiring more Customs and Border Protection agents (the men and women in blue), upgrading their technology and improving the infrastructure, much of which is over 50 years old.

About the Texas Border Coalition

The Texas Border Coalition (TBC) is a collective voice of border mayors, county judges, economic development commissions focused on issues that affect more than 2.1 million people along the Texas-Mexico border region and economically disadvantaged counties from El Paso to Brownsville. TBC is working closely with the state and federal government to educate, advocate, and secure funding for transportation, immigration and border crossings, workforce and education and health care. For more information, visit the coalition Web site at

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