By Duncan D. Hunter
July 5, 2014
Published in the San Diego Union Tribune
No different from many areas throughout Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, San Diego County is on the front line of the illegal immigration fight. The difference is that experience and results make San Diego one of the most effectively secured border regions in the country.
This success is not a coincidence or due to luck. It’s because San Diego has in place the infrastructure and resources that create an enforceable border that actively discourages and prevents illegal foot and vehicle traffic. Often, San Diego is viewed as a bellwether for border security and federal officials — in particular, the Obama Administration — would be wise to take note of what’s been done locally.
One of San Diego’s greatest assets is the double-layered border fence that extends inland from the Pacific Ocean. Fencing and infrastructure alone are by no means enough to stop illegal crossings, but the presence of physical impediments at the border, when supported by manpower and technology, create barriers that make entry increasingly more difficult and sometimes impossible. The last remaining hole in San Diego’s defense is the ocean route. The Coast Guard does not have the technology or the manpower to protect against the ocean threat and the narco-terrorists are using the ocean more.
But on land, infrastructure is a force multiplier. Fewer agents are needed in fenced areas than unfenced sections of the border. With the addition of cameras and sensors, border agents are not only better protected, but also more effective.
Also worth noting is the humanitarian benefit that infrastructure delivers. The danger of crossing desert areas, where dehydration and exhaustion are serious risks, is minimized when there is no clear corridor for entry. The San Diego border fence has forced some migrants to attempt crossing over less inviting terrain, but within these areas a greater manpower presence is capable of covering larger spaces and responding more quickly.
In 2006, the Secure Fence Act was signed into law, requiring the Department of Homeland Security to build upward of 700 miles of double layered fencing along the U. S-Mexico border. While the Obama administration is quick to state that the targets have been met, only a small fraction — in fact, less than 40 miles — of the newly implemented infrastructure is double-layered. The single-layer pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers that fill the remaining mileage might be better than nothing, but the opportunity to build on San Diego’s success continues to be missed in the absence of adding secondary fencing where necessary.
Either the mandates of the Secure Fence Act should be reinstated, which I have proposed, or the Obama administration should utilize existing authority to finish the job that the Bush Administration halfheartedly started. Either way, this is one initiative that, after almost 10 years since the Secure Fence Act was enacted, needs to be completed — the way it was intended.
Though even with the advantages delivered from enhanced security, new challenges are routinely presented, often through exploited legal forms of entry. This is something the San Diego region will continue to deal with despite having an enforceable border.
For instance, one way that illegal immigrants are entering the country is through the process whereby anybody can claim “credible fear.” And right now, U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not keep track of who overstays on the basis credible fear is initially cited.
In fact, credible fear is the new buzzword that lawyers are spreading throughout Mexico and other countries. By law, migrants must be allowed entrance and await their day in court. Many, if not most just disappear and there is no way for CBP to find them later.
Now in San Diego County, it’s easier to present oneself at the Otay Mesa processing center than to sneak across the border. Go down to the border and take a look. The problem here is no longer a lack of infrastructure but a process that is basically a form of admittance into the U.S. for migrants as long as no criminal record shows up for that person. Unbelievably, CBP processes these admittances then cannot account for a migrant’s whereabouts or if they left the country on time.
Addressing security exposures starts at the border — and San Diego County has a great handle on things because of an infrastructure system, technology and personnel that work together so well. But the broader challenges with illegal immigration will continue to exist.
Only when there is consistent enforcement along the entire border will the federal government be in a position to collectively assess the vulnerabilities created by the existing immigration system. Until then, San Diego will continue doing its part, leading by example where it can, and exposing aspects of the immigration process that desperately need a fix.
Hunter, R-Alpine, represents the 50th Congressional District.