Updated technology and resources can help strengthen border trade and security
We are in another election season, and issues are being dissected and accusations are flung around by candidates of all parties. As has become customary during this season, the U.S.-Mexico border is again being used as a punching bag by candidates purporting to be tough on drugs and illegal immigration. One term that is constantly bandied about by candidates that irritates me is the term “open borders,” which implies that the U.S. is doing nothing to curtail the flow of immigrants north from Mexico. I don’t like this term because I feel it is insulting to Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and their associates, who work tirelessly every day to protect Americans, often with little recognition.
I have interacted with officers from CBP and the Border Patrol throughout my career. I have been impressed by their dedication to their jobs, which have to be some of the most stressful of any sector. I once had a student of mine who was a Border Patrol agent write an essay on the challenges faced by members of this agency. I was surprised to hear about high divorce rates and depression. Border Patrol agents often work long hours because of understaffing, and spend a lot of time away from their families as they protect the border. They witness first-hand the extreme nature of human desperation, and the effect it can have on children and the most vulnerable of people. These factors can result in high turnover of agents.
CBP and Border Patrol not only have to keep Americans safe from contraband such as illegal drugs and dangerous products, but both have become the initial processing mechanisms for asylum seekers who are surrendering themselves peacefully in order to go through the asylum process, with the hope that they will be allowed to stay in the U.S.
Asylum seekers are caught between horrible safety and economic conditions in their home countries and a U.S. immigration system that is a hot-potato issue neither the Democrats nor Republicans seem to have the political will to effectively address. In the past, the overwhelming majority of immigrants were from Mexico, but now they are comprised of people fleeing countries such as Venezuela, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Cuba, as well as several eastern European countries. This makes processing them even more challenging. The sheer number of asylum seekers must be exhausting to agents who have to get up every day to do their jobs. And it is not as simple as simply hiring new agents off the street and putting them on the front lines. These types of jobs can take months to have background checks completed, training, and then shadowing experienced agents in the field before new recruits can effectively do their jobs.
Given the overwhelming nature of their jobs, agents at the border can use all of the help and support that they can get. One way to do this is to incorporate high-tech equipment to process people and shipments more safely and efficiently, especially considering manpower shortages. Recently, it was announced that CBP at the Santa Teresa Port of Entry in southern New Mexico would be receiving non-intrusive inspection (NII) equipment to inspect commercial shipments crossing the Mexican border into the U.S.
Ports along the southern border have long used Vehicle and Commercial Inspection Systems (VACIS) to inspect shipments. However, many ports of entry have an average inspection rate of under 20 percent, due to the sheer volume of traffic and their diversity. Plus, there is simply not enough manpower to inspect every shipment.
NII equipment is the latest inspection technology that will replace VACIS systems along the border. This system will allow cargo to be quickly and effectively electronically inspected, thus allowing for a higher percentage of inspections, possibly 80 percent and above. Faster inspections can also speed up the traffic flow, while catching more contraband, which is a win-win situation for CBP and the private sector.
Currently, the Brownsville, Texas Port of Entry is the only port in which this new NII technology has been installed. Santa Teresa Port of Entry will be the second port to receive NII, which is predicted to be in operation by the end of the year or early next year. Incorporating technologies such as NII is the wave of the future at the border to intercept contraband and human smuggling. It makes a strong case against people who throw the term “open borders” around so liberally.