From sea to shining sea

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...

Wildes says the immigration system, as well as our border defenses as they now stand are, in his opinion, broken and the laws outdated. “The last time (the laws) were rewritten it was in a different economy and in a different generation,” he says.

The former federal prosecutor says the upshot of having antiquated laws on the books and inadequate means to enforce them is that people who should be able to immigrate are prevented from doing so, while many who should be denied entry make it across the border. Wildes says inequities such as these contribute to the challenges the nation still faces.

Wildes believes security should begin in other countries, before those who immigrate actually breech U.S. borders, including all forms of transportation. He notes the U.S. has cooperative agreements with other countries at certain ports of entry, but says they are very limited. “And once someone has bootstrapped himself onto safe ground, then we have an issue,” he says.

Wildes says the U.S. should avail itself of new technology and believes that the use of profiling by law enforcement officers is simply exercising good common sense. “We shouldn’t be shy about that,” he says.

Other border considerations

Gary Hale is a nonresident fellow at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy. A native of Laredo, Texas, Hale was intelligence chief at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and completed tours of duty in countries like Columbia and Bolivia. Hale also served in the nation’s capitol, most notably as a liaison to the NSA.

Like most experts who have actually spent time in the trenches when it comes to this country’s borders, Hale believes that change has to come from the ground up, and in fact helped brief the Obama transition team as to border concerns when they first arrived in power. He says Washington has, “never had a good understanding of what’s happening on the borders”—a sentiment that’s reflected by many insiders who believe policy wonks tend to ignore the mechanics of their decisions. It’s one thing entirely to make laws and order them enforced; it’s another thing to enforce them without adequate manpower, equipment or support.

Hale classifies the border as “relatively calm” prior to the year 2000, when, he says, people could engage in casual travel in both directions with relative ease. Hale says that began to change in the developing shadow of the predominant drug cartels (organizational restructuring, members going to jail, etc.) and inter-cartel fighting worsened. A political regime change, designed to confront and combat the cartels head-on, added to the heating up of the southern border.

Meanwhile, on the northern border, the national posture changed in order to accommodate the incursion of terrorist crossings to and from the United States, with both Canada and the United States on high alert to the possible smuggling of weapons or illegal entry by citizens of other countries. Drug smuggling, long believed to be the exclusive purview of the border with Mexico, continued to flourish on the northern border, too. And human trafficking continued to proliferate along both. But the southern border is, by far, the more volatile of the two, say the preponderance of experts.

The emerging problem

Jim Walters, Assistant Chief of Police at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and a liaison for training and technical assistance for the Dept. of Justice’s Southern Border Initiative, says what’s ahead is a parent’s worst nightmare and U.S.-based law enforcement’s biggest headache: increased involvement in drug trafficking and murder committed by U.S. citizens. Even worse, says Walters, the offenders are getting younger and younger.

By example he offers the case of a Louisville, Kentucky police raid that netted the arrests of four Mexican nationals police identified as members of the Zetas, one of that country’s most dangerous and sophisticated cartels. Along with the four men arrested was a local juvenile. Walters says the involvement of the child isn’t a fluke: some of the most practiced criminals employed by the cartels are now children.

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