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In the second part of a series on America’s borders, retired Border Patrol Chief J.William Carter outlines how America’s northern border is probably more vulnerable than the border with Mexico.

Article by Chief J. William Carter, CPB (ret.)

OUR INTERNATIONAL BORDERS ARE OUT OF CONTROL! Some suggest that we are moving in the right direction simply because apprehensions, as well as attempted entries by illegal aliens, are down from previous years. I contend that as long as one person is successful in crossing our borders without inspection, our borders will never be in control. Anyone bent on entering the United States will find a way, and the way may not necessarily be across our southern border with Mexico.

In addition to our southern border with Mexico, there are the northern border with Canada and the coastal borders of Florida and the island of Puerto Rico. The northern border is 4,000 miles long and today is patrolled by approximately 1,000 Border Patrol agents assigned to seven Border Patrol sectors. This border has gone essentially unnoticed and, except for manned crossing points, largely unattended until the invasion of September 11, 2001. Prior to that terrorist declaration of war, the staffing level on our entire northern border with Canada was approximately 350 Border Patrol agents, and if we were to consider temporary duty (TDY), days off, emergency leave, and sick leave, who knows what that number would be reduced to on any given day. What I do know is that it would be an unacceptable number with unacceptable consequences—an essentially open border.

To the east are 2,000 miles of coastal waters surrounding the Florida peninsula and the island of Puerto Rico. Responsibility for controlling these areas against the influx of illegal aliens, illegal drugs, other contraband, and as well as to prevent acts of terrorism belongs, in part, to the Miami, Florida and Ramey, Puerto Rico Border Patrol sectors. The Miami sector patrols well beyond the borders of Florida to the north and west and its responsibilities go far beyond coastal waters. Those attempting to enter the United States without inspection between the ports of entry would be along the 1,700 miles of coastline from the Atlantic and Gulf shores of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas. The costal border of Florida, which is the sole responsibility of the Miami sector, is in excess of 1,200 miles long. The illegal entry of Haitians, Dominicans, and Cubans as well illegal aliens from other countries throughout the world along these shores is unacceptable but real.

The island of Puerto Rico is a self-governing territory of the United States. Persons entering Puerto Rico legally or attempting to enter in violation of immigration laws are subject to the same immigration laws as anyone making application for admission to the U.S. In the mid -1980s, both the citizens and the government of Puerto Rico began to show concern about the increase of illegal alien activity on their island. This expression of concern resulted in the establishment of the Ramey Border Patrol sector in 1987. This small band of agents immediately began to combat the rising tide of illegal aliens arriving from the Dominican Republic, some 90 miles to their west on the island of Hispaniola. Prior to the arrival of the Border Patrol it was difficult, if not impossible, to determine either the number or nationality of illegal aliens being smuggled onto the island by boat. However it wasn’t long after the patrol arrived that they recognized that the illegal alien activity originated far beyond the Dominican Republic and included persons from China and Cuba as well.

Great strides are being made in securing all of our borders, but let us not take these successes for granted. We must remember that the enemy is laying in wait and will surface the moment we let down our guard. Until sufficient staffing, equipment and technology are in place on all of our borders—southern, northern, and coastal, claim can never be made that our borders are secure.

With what appears to be an effective border control strategy in place along our southern border, as the number of Border Patrol apprehensions declined from 1,189,000 in 2005 to 724,000 in 2008, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) must continue to focus its attention on our northern border with Canada and our coastlines. The apprehensions made between the ports of entry on the northern border are virtually flat-lined, with a slight increase since 2005. Once it becomes too difficult to enter illegally across our southern border, the move will be immediate to the northern and coastal borders.

Those attempting to enter our country in violation of law are often times doing so to bring harm to the United States, her citizens and those who reside, work or study here legally. At the same time, we cannot afford to reduce any of our resources along our southern border in order to secure our other borders; they must stay in place, refreshed and renewed constantly. It is up to DHS to continue to request, and the Congress of the United States to provide, the additional resources necessary to secure all of our borders, and not to suggest that resources from one location be re-deployed to secure another. It is guaranteed that once the strength of a secured border location is reduced, or worse abandoned, the criminal element will once again seize control.

Historically, and with respect to immigration enforcement efforts, our northern border has been the “stepchild” of the Border Patrol. Both the northern border and the patrol’s coastal sectors have always been the last phase of any national strategy, with that phase often times never being reached. However, because of September 11, and in tacit acknowledgment of just how porous and unprotected our northern and coastal borders have been, efforts are being made every day to ensure that our border with Canada and our coastal regions are secured against illegal activity.

Since September 2001, the number of Border Patrol agents assigned to the northern border has increased significantly. The Office of Air and Marine, Customs and Border Protection, has established stations across the northern border. In addition, thousands of Coast Guardsmen are providing support along the northern border waterways. Technology, a critical resource on the northern border, has moved into the 21st century through the use of radiation detectors, sensors, and cameras, all necessary to the success of securing our northern border. Also, the coordination efforts, especially in the world of intelligence, between the Border Patrol and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, have played a significant role in increasing border security for both the United States and Canada.

Staffing in almost every local, state, or federal law enforcement agency is never adequate, and this is certainly the case when we talk of border enforcement along our coastlines. Innovation and cooperation is the name of the game. Only because of the willingness of most agencies to work together can our law enforcement missions be accomplished. Almost every day, in both the Miami, Florida and the Ramey, Puerto Rico Border Patrol sectors, coordination between local law enforcement, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the United States Attorney’s Office results in the apprehension and prosecution of persons suspected of smuggling illegal aliens into the United States by sea. A former Miami sector chief patrol agent is quoted as saying “maritime smuggling of human beings continues to be a serious concern of the Department of Homeland Security. CBP Border Patrol is committed to assisting the United States Attorney’s Office in prosecuting smugglers that show little regard for human life. It is imperative that we collectively work together to deter and mitigate this type of smuggling venture and educate the public on the dangers associated with the life threatening tactics utilized by smuggling organizations. CBP Border Patrol works collectively with all of our DHS partners in securing our nation’s borders, which is paramount in protecting the national security of the United States.”

One such collaborative effort began in 1981, when the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and the United States Coast Guard joined efforts to combat the overwhelming numbers of illegal Haitians landing on Florida beaches. Many arrived in rubber rafts, others on fast cigarette boats and Haitian coastal freighters. This operation became known as the “Haitian Migration Interdiction Operation” (HMIO), and was executed in the Windward Passage. Coast Guard cutters, such as the West Wind and the Diligence (to which I was proudly assigned for 60 days as the INS interdiction officer), patrolled the waters between Cuba and Haiti in a successful effort to protect the sovereignty of our international border.

Not only are we securing our shores, but because of the efforts of the Coast Guard lives are being saved, as the hazards of illegal migration often times include the loss of life. Coastal operations involving the U.S. Coast
Guard, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Department of State (DOS), and the DHS continue to this day, as the threat of illegal migration from the Caribbean to our shores is real.

The efforts of our Coast Guard are not unique to south Florida, as the Dominican Republic has historically been a major source country for the attempted entry of illegal aliens into the U.S. Thousands of potential illegal aliens from the Dominican Republic have taken to sea in homemade fishing vessels to be smuggled by highly organized gangs across the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico. In an effort to stem this flow, the Coast Guard conducted Operation Able Response, resulting in thousands of migrants being interdicted or forced to return to the Dominican Republic.

The Ramey, Puerto Rico sector has been an active partner in the Caribbean Border Inter-Agency Group (CBIG), an ongoing collaboration between the CBP and Homeland Security counterparts, the Department of Justice, and Puerto Rican law enforcement to stem the flow of illegal traffic from the Dominican Republic. The success of the CBIG can be attributed to an outstanding exchange of intelligence between participating agencies and departments and a robust prosecution program focusing on aliens with a prior immigration history.

Multi-agency interdiction efforts are the key to success in the Caribbean and contribute significantly to maintaining control of the Puerto Rican coastal borders. Unfortunately, we cannot always count on or expect our friends in other law enforcement communities to be available, as leadership, priorities, and goals may change, moving them in different directions. Therefore, it is imperative that CBP look within itself to see that our coastal sectors continue to be provided with the resources necessary to accomplish the mission of the Border Patrol.

I know firsthand that the Border Patrol is true to its mission, as stated by the Chief, United States Border Patrol in testimony before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Citizenship, Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Homeland Security. He states that “the primary mission of CBP Border Patrol, as CBP’s mobile uniformed law enforcement arm, is to detect and prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons, including weapons of mass destruction, from entering the United States between the ports of entry. In doing so, we also continue to perform our traditional duties of interdicting illegal immigrants, drugs, currency, and other contraband”.

With this in mind and the understanding that this mission cannot be accomplished through vigilance, determination and perseverance alone, every effort must be made to see that all of our international borders are protected from harm. We, as citizens and legal aliens, must be permitted to enjoy the freedoms provided to us and so bitterly fought for by our founding fathers. Let us also remember that this war will not be won or lost in the field, but in the halls of congress—how unfortunate.