Although the continental United States has four borders, the majority of illegal immigration and smuggling—particularly of human beings and contraband—takes place along the two landlocked borders to the north and south, with the U.S.-Mexican border claiming the distinction as the one most concerning to U.S. interests.
At 1,969 miles, the country’s southern border extends from about Imperial Beach, Calif., to Brownsville, Texas, following along the Rio Grande, crossing the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts in the process. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, it is the worldwide border most frequently crossed over and accounts for an estimated 20 million crossings annually. At its longest point, the border stretches along the state of Texas. California shares the shortest border with Mexico.
The U.S.-Canadian border holds its own record: At 5,525 miles, it comprises the world’s longest border between two countries, inclusive of the border shared with Alaska, which alone stretches an amazing 1,538 miles in length. Also patrolled by both the U.S. and Canada, security along this border was similarly upped following the 9/11 attacks.
Chief among the many and varied issues confronted by officials charged with protecting our borders is smuggling, primarily of contraband items such as drugs and firearms. Both have a history of tunneling attempts, but the border that divides the U.S. from Canada doesn’t share the recent violent history of its sister to the south.
Incursions into small-town America are no longer theoretical. Intelligence officials have urged law enforcement agencies, even very tiny ones, to increase awareness among their personnel of the illegal traffic and other activities currently spilling over onto Main Street U.S.A. courtesy of drug cartels. Instead, police in every state have seen the influence of these powerful cartels in one form or another, from recruitment of gang members to homicides to the sale and delivery of drugs.
And the stakes keep climbing higher and higher. Right now, cartels are recruiting large numbers of juveniles—kids impressed with the lifestyles that big drug money could buy—from the ranks of Texas high school students. That means that in addition to the usual problems that come with being a border town, officials in many of these areas are also dealing with the subversion of their own children in ever-increasing numbers.
Then again, there is also the issue of the legitimate border crossings that need to be regulated and controlled. This multi-pronged issue presents new conundrums for law enforcement officials and politicians alike on a daily basis, with few workable, budget-friendly solutions available.
Universal problems with immigration
The problem with America’s borders is that they come equipped with, well, lots of problems. And experts in immigration, law enforcement, security and other fields associated with controlling those borders all agree there is no simple cure for what ails border control. In fact, the problems are so serious and dynamic that most involved in the analysis and development of policy surrounding border control believe worst case scenarios aren’t simply conjecture, but they’re possibilities...perhaps even probabilities.
Michael Wildes, a New Jersey-based immigration attorney, former federal prosecutor and past auxiliary officer with the NYPD, has experienced all sides of the border coin (Wildes was also a member of his state’s blue ribbon immigration panel) and believes that, despite assurances from some authorities, limited resources combined with increasing demands have left the U.S. with vulnerable, porous borders.
“There are gaping holes that remain a decade after 9/11 and points of vulnerability that remain in our immigration system that are unacceptable in this century,” Wildes says.
He points out that the borders remain easily penetrable, despite this country’s efforts to shore up defenses. “There are only about 270 immigration judges (and) 5,000 ICE agents and there are hundreds of miles of border and millions upon millions of people who are here unlawfully,” he says.