Edition


Vol. 56, No. 6

In this edition

by LOU ZICKAR After the worst year for military recruiting since the start of the all-volunteer force in 1973, the latest edition of The Ripon Forum focuses on U.S. military readiness at a time of rising tensions around the globe. 

The Ultimate Weapon is in Short Supply

The Army only made 75 percent of its recruiting quota in fiscal year 2022, and other services have also been strapped to meet their targets. Why the shortfall, and what can be done to reverse it?

Saving Ukraine: The Evolution of Aid and What the Future May Hold

Without the rapid delivery of weapons and munitions from the United States, NATO, and others, Ukraine would have been overwhelmed in two or three weeks. What comes next?

The National Defense Stockpile is Small but Important — and Should Be Bigger

Today, the stockpile is but a fraction of its former self; its cache of materials is valued at less than $1 billion. Corrected for inflation, that’s less than 1/40th of its value in 1952.

Reagan’s Vision and the State of U.S. Missile Defense Today

The missile threat environment is far more perilous than at any other time in history. China, Russia, North Korea, and potentially Iran are deliberately developing strategies to threaten the U.S. homeland.

Ensuring Nuclear Deterrence in the 21st Century

At a time when Vladimir Putin is making irresponsible threats to use nuclear weapons in its conflict with Ukraine, the U.S. nuclear arsenal is currently supported by last century’s equipment.

Back to the Future for Defense

Republicans ought to take a page from the Reagan playbook and insist that we can defeat inflation and control federal spending without weakening our military.

After Failing Five Straight Audits, the Pentagon Should Not Get a Funding Boost

You don’t need to be a budget hawk to recognize it is past time to end budget increases for the Department of Defense and impose some fiscal discipline on the agency.

The Space Force Turns Three

With the U.S. Space Force marking its third anniversary, now is a good time to examine not only some of its key accomplishments, but some of the key challenges it faces in the years ahead.

Viewing Border Security as an Ecosystem

If the number of individuals arrested along our southern border were to form their own city, it would be the fifth largest city in the United States.

Ripon Profile of Julia Letlow

The Representative of Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District discusses her background in education and which federal agency she believes is in most need of reform.

Viewing Border Security as an Ecosystem

The southern border of the United States has once again become a flashpoint in the national political debate.  When you look at the numbers over the past year, it’s easy to understand why. 

According to the Department of Homeland Security, a record number 2,206,436 arrests were made between the ports-of-entry along the nearly 2,000 miles of southwest border.  To put this into perspective, consider that from 2010 through 2018 not a single year exceeded 500,000 arrests in any 12 month period. In fiscal year 2022, the number of arrests exceeded 500,000 every 83 days!   

To put these figures in an even more stark perspective, if the number of individuals arrested along our southern border were to form their own city, it would be the fifth largest city in the United States — behind only New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Houston.      

Perceptions 

Over the last 35 years I have come to learn that perceptions matter. People around the world listen to what U.S. Government leadership says or does not say about illegal immigration, and human smugglers will exploit this to sell hope to those who are desperate.   

If the number of individuals arrested along our southern border were to form their own city, it would be the fifth largest city in the United States 

Hope is a powerful motivator that will make a person believe they can cross a 70 mile desert in southern Arizona with little or no water during July or readily accept being placed in a tractor trailer with 52 others only to die from heat exposure and asphyxiation. As a nation we must be conscious about the perceptions we project.  

Border Security as a Complex Ecological System 

For much of our history, border security has been viewed as the defense of a distinguishable line on a map. This perspective served us well when we expected our borders to be controlled as opposed to secure. The difference between the two terms is that under a border control mindset, the United States views illegal immigration as a public disorder issue, whereas in a border security mindset, a high level of illegal immigration is a national security issue.  

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, ushered in the notion that our borders would now need to be secure. The primary mission of border security evolved to include counterterrorism in addition to stopping both the illegal entry of migrants and the smuggling of illicit contraband. Although very important, a demarcated line on a map is not the start nor the end for border security, but rather part of a continuum. Viewing border security as a complex system with disparate variables across that continuum provides a greater insight into the processes within the system that may expose national vulnerabilities to domestic and foreign threats.      

Non-operational variables play a vital part in formally and informally shaping border security functions by exerting influence through the interaction with other social and environmental systems. I suggest there are multitudes of factors that are not conventionally viewed as having a border security nexus, but they certainly influence how border security is conducted and viewed. It is clear that a border security environment is comprised of systems that are intimately interrelated, and an omission of information related to any one of these systems is likely to result in compromises to border security.  

Although very important, a demarcated line on a map is not the start nor the end for border security, but rather part of a continuum. 

By drawing on the insights provided by the human ecology literature, and specifically Bronfenbrenners complex ecological systems theory, this commentary attempts to construct a better framework of understanding the multitude of factors that influence the legitimate and illegitimate flows across the border and actions along this chaotic environment.  

Policy Implications 

Viewing border security through an ecological systems framework allows us to organize data into patterns that we can interpret and understand shaping pressures, and then act with consequence. The improved understanding could potentially manifest itself at three distinct levels. First, operational level components would be able to recognize sooner subtle nuances to operational changes. An earlier recognition of changes could provide the forewarning to reallocate resources to mitigate crisis levels of mass migration. Border security operational components rely on the right mix of personnel, technology, and infrastructure (barriers, access, lights, etc.) to patrol and reduce the risk that is created by vulnerabilities and threats. This alone is not enough.  A deeper strategic level of understanding would provide a global understanding of the push and pull factors influencing border security.  

Policy and agency decision makers could re-evaluate long-term planning that would effectively address variables that impact the decision to illicitly travel to the United States.  For example,  a brief description of the risk of asylum claims of individuals entering the United States provides a simplified example of how this multi-level conceptualization of ecological systems theory has utility for border security policy. The significant rise in asylum claims by individuals has challenged the governments ability to perform the objectives of detecting, classifying, responding to, and resolving other illegal incursions into the United States. While Border Patrol Agents between the ports-of-entry or officers at ports are dealing directly with mass migration events, they are forced to constrict their operational profiles. A case in point — on March 29, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security declared the migration flow of asylum seekers had overwhelmed their capacities to perform all their mission objectives. The Department responded by reallocating personnel from other missions to respond to the migration event. The result is that border security agencies were unable to respond to other border incursions.  

DHS claims the increased flow of asylum seekers is a result of outdated laws and misguided court decisions that make quick adjudication of asylum claims practically impossible. Nearly all of the asylum seekers are released into the United States pending the final disposition of their claim. As a result, most individuals will never be removed from the United States even if they are here unlawfully. Both domestic and foreign mass media outlets and non-governmental agencies are promulgating the lack of consequences of the illegal entry, which in turn is encouraging additional migration. None of the influencers on the increased flow of individuals is in the direct purview of border security entities, but the dynamic certainly affects the ability to perform border security functions at different locations along the border 

By including policy with the personnel, technology, and infrastructure we turn the concept of border security from a simple demarcation on a map to an issue that considers the whole of governmentapproach to border security.  Indeed, viewing border security through an ecological systems lens provides a conceptual framework in which to start seriously addressing the issue of border security over the long haul instead of a series of patchwork attempts.   

Our nation currently views border security as either a resource issue or a policy issue.  But history tells us that it is actually both of these things, and each needs to be given the same level of priority.  The current status on the border is not sustainable nor should it be tolerated by the American public. We can do better. 

Victor M. Manjarrez, Jr. is the Director of the Center for Law and Human Behavior (CLHB) at the University of Texas at El Paso.  He served for more than 20 years in the United States Border Patrol and filled key operational roles both in the field and at headquarters over the course of his extensive homeland security career.