Tuesday, September 27, 2011

U.S. Congress Still Wants “Operational Control” of Borders

Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security announced the approval of HR 2199, the “Secure Border Act of 2011.” The key mandate of the bill is to “achieve operational control of and achieve security at the international land borders of the United States.” The most important term here is “operational control.” As laid out by Congress in the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (pdf), the concept is defined as “the prevention of all unlawful entries into the United States.” As the 2011 bill reaffirms, Congress wants the Department of Homeland Security to essentially seal off the border.

So just how impossible is this task? As the Government Accountability Office (GAO) laid out in a report released last February, over half of the Southwest border (1,127 out of 1,951 miles) are considered to have low border security. The area deemed by the U.S. Border Patrol as under “operational control” is just 873 miles. Within this chunk of border, the agency considers just 15 percent (129 miles) to be “controlled,” which the agency defines as a high level of ability to stop illegal activities, not the capacity to prevent “all unlawful entries.” The other 85 percent (744 miles) are “managed,” meaning the Border Patrol can stop illegal entries over 100 miles into U.S. territory.

The Border Patrol has been operating with a different definition of “operational control” since 2007, defining the act as “the ability to detect, respond, and interdict border penetrations in areas deemed as high priority for threat potential.” Here, the key part of the definition is “threat.” Since the achievement of total “operational control” of the U.S. borders is impossible, the Border Patrol is basically measuring success according to their ability to control high-risk areas, not their ability to stop every illegal entry into the U.S.

Head of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said in February that the very concept of “operational control” is a “very narrow term.” A better description might be “politically loaded” or “unrealistic.” But as evident from the advance of the latest “Secure Border” bill, Congress is not looking to develop new measures to gauge border security anytime soon.

News Briefs

  • In other U.S.-Mexico border news, the non-governmental task force appointed by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (iCE) in order to review the controversial Secure Communities enforcement program released their expected findings and recommendations.
  • Colombian think-tank Foundation Ideas for Peace (FIP), an Open Society grantee, released a study arguing that the security forces have not lost the initiative in the war against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). As Just the Facts and Semana have pointed out, this is the opposite conclusion drawn by another conflict think-tank, the New Rainbow Foundation (Nuevo Arco Iris). While Nuevo Arco Iris counts the usage of anti-personnel mines and snipers as offensive actions by the FARC, the FIP discounts them, arguing they are part of an inherently defensive strategy used by the guerrillas to protect their strategic movement corridors, and are not evidence of the rebels’ military resurgence. As a result, when tallying up the total number of FARC actions (which the FIP divides into six categories, including “combat with security forces,” “attacks on infrastructure,” “ambush” and “sabotage”), the FIP concludes that the security forces are still carrying out a far higher number of combats with the rebels, compared to the FARC’s total number of actions. Nuevo Arco Iris used a similar approach in a report released last July, but because they counted incidents involving landmines and sniper fire, their conclusion is that the FARC’s military actions have been on the rise since 2009.
  • Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” once considered by Forbes to be the world’s most wanted man after Osama Bin Laden, is the father of twins girls who were born outside Los Angeles just over a month ago. The LA Times reports that Guzman’s 22-year-old wife, beauty queen Emma Coronel, is a U.S. citizen and crossed over the border without detention or arrest, as there are no current charges against her.
  • The LA Times has a brief feature on Mexico city mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who announced last week that he will renounce office on January 1 in order to be eligible to run for president. Ebrard, a key figure of the Mexican left, is a member of the democratic socialist party known as the PRD and may face a tough campaign ahead of him. According to one Mitofsky poll in early September, just three percent of those surveyed would elect him president.
  • The Mexican government will investigate a communique released by the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, a splinter group of the Sinaloa Cartel), in which they describe their commitment to eliminating rival cartel the Zetas in the region. In the video, the group calls themselves the “Mata Zetas” and justify their actions against their rivals by claiming they don’t “extort or kidnap.” This is very similar rhetoric that other rivals of the Zetas, including the now-defunct Familia Michoacana, have invoked when conducting their PR campaigns on the Internet. The Mata Zetas first announced themselves via video last July, declaring their intention to expel the Zetas from Veracruz. The group is being blamed for the recent killing and dumping of 35 bodies on a Veracruz highway.
  • The Associated Press has a follow-up on the killing of social media user Maria Elizabeth Castro, reportedly involved with discussing criminal activity on a Nuevo Laredo-based webforum. The AP interviews an editor at Primera Hora, the newspaper where Castro apparently worked as the advertising supervisor. The paper hasn’t had a crime reporter for the past two years, the editor told the AP. This is partly indicative of why websites like Nuevo Laredo en Vivo, where Castro was reportedly active, have grown in popularity in Mexico: to share reporting on criminal activity, as an intimidated press has withdraw from covering the problem. Meanwhile, users of the anti-crime website have vowed to continue their activity after Castro’s death.
  • Hugo Chavez, back in Venezuela after his fourth round of chemotherapy, criticized the opposition for reportedly portraying him as in “grave condition” and therefore incapable of running the country, let alone running again for president next year.
  • The Miami Herald examines Haiti a year after the cholera outbreak which claimed thousands of lives. Humanitarian aid groups have begun to withdraw their cholera treatment efforts, even though some health experts say Haiti could experience another outbreak before the end of the rainy season, the Herald reports.
  • Bolivia has suspended the construction of the highway crossing the Amazonian rainforest, which caused such violent protests yesterday and prompted the Minister of Defense to resign. Analyst James Bosworth writes that if Morales had pushed through with the road project, his government was at risk of falling “before the end of the week.” Meanwhile, authorities have apparently detained a doctor who reported police abuse against medics treating injured indigenous protesters.