It certainly becomes difficult to get information from government agencies during wartime, and properly so. I spoke to a spokesman for the Border Patrol and found him uncharacteristically evasive and apologetic. That's his job now, to turn away media inquiries without provoking their ire. Fortunately, I don't rely exclusively on official spokesmen. I have learned a few things you might not know, but I will not reveal things I discovered that I think possible adversaries don't know.
One of the things we talked about was the Border Patrol Citizens Academy. "Academy" might be a somewhat hyperbolic description of what might more conservatively be called an extended seminar. But people who have attended are enthusiastic about it. The stated purpose is to give them a first hand look at the different elements that make up the Patrol and its challenges.
A recent but pre-war innovation, it is presently being augmented with information arising out of the hostilities. The academies are being conducted evenings in Nogales, Naco, and Douglas and additional locations are under consideration. Graduates are not deputized and acquire no special authority for having taken the classes. They do participate in a graduation ceremony and get a handsome certificate of appreciation.
Participants also learn their rights and responsibilities in dealing with illegal entrants that cross or camp on their grounds. All this will now be offered in light of the new challenges arising out of the terrorist threat that has been superimposed on the already difficult situation on the border. Citizens are encouraged to be the Patrol's eyes and ears, reporting what they have learned is suspicious activity.
Authorities believe that the borders represent an opportunity for terrorists to enter the country surreptitiously and bring in with them any ordnance and materiel they might need. This serious problem compounds the already difficult problem of undocumented immigrants who are not here for espionage or sabotage but just to supply illegal drugs to Americans. Of course, there are many more who seek nothing more dangerous than a low-paying (by our standards) job. The trouble comes in separating the sheep from the goats, so to speak, especially if they're crossing at uncontrolled points.
The Border Patrol's official reaction to recent events is to tighten security along the border. Exactly what form will this new security take? Ah, ah, ah, that's more than you need to know. But I can remind you that already, new identification cards for regular visitors have gone electronic and additional personnel have been dispatched to the legal crossing points, known in the business as ports of entry. But what about the situation between ports of entry, the traditional crossing points for illegals, in the desolate, unforgiving desert? A lot of people ask that question, I was told. And the answer is, "We are tightening security along the border." But are the uncontrolled crossing points now under control? "We are tightening security along the border."
Other sources have confirmed for me that there is no way to adequately police a 2,500 mile border with the same security as at ports of entry. It appears that the border remains disturbingly porous between ports of entry.
In the last 12-month period, the Patrol has apprehended over 460,000 unlawful immigrants. That looks like an enormous number — it approaches the total number of residents in Tucson. But you must appreciate that all those are not 460,000 different people. Many are the same people who just keep trying until they are successful. On the other hand, that number represents only captures. The number of unlawful entrants who are not captured is anyone's guess. But it would certainly increase that number by a wide margin, I would think.
In the past, we have not been serious about controlling our southern border. With the threat of additional terrorism, we will need to devote considerably more resources to this problem, before, not after it allows another disaster.
Lionel Waxman's Flashpoint commentaries are heard on radio stations nationwide, including KJLL AM 1330 in Tucson. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.