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U.S. Borders Require More Security

America’s border communities continue to experience the crush of illegal immigration and are feeling desperate by the federal government’s limited response. The residents of border counties in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas are ready for a border plan that works. The Minutemen patrols along our borders not only showed the high level of frustration by those living on the border, they also showed that it is time for a major strategy shift when we think of border security. There are several plans in Congress to address the border security question, but they do not go far enough. Before there can be a comprehensive immigration policy to address the guest worker issue, America must first secure its borders.

As a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, I have developed a plan to address this growing problem. Currently, we have a patchwork of border protection that is led by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency. This agency is plagued by technology and personnel shortfalls that continue to make its job more difficult, and the personnel issue will not be solved any time soon since the Border Patrol has graduated only 245 agents from its training academies this year. The major flaw in America’s border operation is its reliance on old methods and operations. I am proposing a new comprehensive, aggressive and proactive border strategy called the “Red Zone Defense.”

The Red Zone Defense

Currently, Border Patrol agents are assigned a designated spot on the border, using binoculars and other low-tech equipment to catch immigrants trying to cross. Instead, we must use state-of-the-art technology to track these immigrants before they cross. These new tools will allow the Border Patrol to see into Mexico and predict where the flow is occurring to shift our manpower in a proactive manner to be more effective in apprehension and prevention activities. This technology will even be able to ascertain the kind of intelligence needed to help distinguish economic illegals versus drug smugglers by their behavioral patterns, allowing us to prioritize our targets.

This technology currently is being used with success in several of our theaters of operation around the world. Along with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, drones, ground sensors and tower sensors, we need aerostat balloons equipped with night-vision technology and other intelligence payloads to see into Mexico looking for illegal aliens before they get to the border. This capability will provide a constant stream of real-time intelligence, which can then be downlinked to a multiagency command center. This will allow federal border officials to shift manpower to interdict those coming over before they cross our borders.

Blitzing the Quarterback

For more than 100 years, those of us who have lived on the border know of the Mexican families who have used their knowledge of hidden canyons, back trails, underground caves, tunnels and double-canopy greenway corridors to aid their smuggling operations. Whether it was running booze during prohibition or smuggling human beings, drugs or contraband, these families now make up some of the most violent drug cartels in the world. Yet very little is being done to work with our counterparts in Mexico to conduct law enforcement actions to take down and target these operations. These cartels are very aggressive in their operations against America and feel no real counter-pressure. These cartels also will be the organizations that the terrorists will seek out to look for new ways to enter the United States and do our nation harm. This new relationship between drugs and terror is referred to as Narco-Terror and we have already begun to see these alliances develop in Central and South America. We must disrupt these operations and attack the drug kingpins and high-value targets in Mexico with our Mexican law enforcement partners if we are to get control of our borders.

We must take the offensive against an unconventional enemy who can blend in anywhere in the world, and we must evolve to meet this changing threat. More importantly, as the bombings in London show, terrorists are looking for new opportunities to hurt us. Our nation’s aggressive response to air attacks on hijacked jets in the aftermath of the Sept.11, 2001, terrorist attacks must now be shifted to secure America’s biggest vulnerability, our borders. Using our ongoing relationship with Mexican law enforcement and intelligence agencies, we need to coordinate our efforts against the traditional smuggling cartel families.

Southeast Arizona’s Border Patrol units have made more than 400,000 apprehensions in the past year, and for every one person caught, three to four make it through. It is troubling to note that while the vast majority of those that cross are traditional economic illegals looking for work, a growing number fall into another more dangerous category called special interest aliens.

In fact, thousands of these special interest aliens (illegal immigrants from terror-related countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and even Iraq) have been apprehended by the U.S. Border Patrol this year, and this number continues to climb. This statistic is highlighted by the Al-Jazeera Arabic television station’s recent attempt to film a documentary on the ease of crossing Arizona’s border illegally. This film could have served as a powerful tool for terrorists trying to sneak across our borders. I was able to work with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to squash this television show, but the issue remains — al Qaeda is on our doorstep.

While the main thrust behind the “Red Zone Defense” will be to drastically curtail the entry of economic illegals into our nation and specifically work to prevent potential terrorists from sneaking across, it also will help to make the border safer, especially for economic illegals exposed to heat and death in our deserts. Crossing America’s Southwestern borders, especially in Arizona, can be a treacherous journey, even for those well prepared. One of the several humanitarian groups that try to assist illegal immigrants estimates that more than 3,000 immigrants have died in the past 10 years, and that deaths this year will be at record highs. Already, more than 200 people have died along the border since October 2004.

A secure border will not only make America safer, but it will allow the implementation of a comprehensive immigration plan to assist those looking for work and businesses that need workers. We do rely on our friends to the south who contribute greatly to our nation, but a new border strategy is required for a major decrease in illegal immigration, assaults and violence along the border to be achieved. More importantly, a successful defense will allow us to be more compassionate in the type of guest worker program we develop because we will have again earned the trust of the American people.

Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) is a member of the Intelligence Committee.

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