Obama administration officials have announced yet another step backwards from effective border control and immigration law enforcement. Citing the need to save money and consolidate operations closer to the border, the Customs and Border Protection agency (CBP), which includes the Border Patrol, will close nine border patrol stations: six in Texas, one in California, one in Montana, and one in Idaho. Forty-one agents and seven support staffers will be relocated from the “deactivated” stations to posts closer to the border.
This move is a blow to public safety in the nine areas that are directly affected, and will create new safe zones for human and drug smugglers to move their loads across the country. It also suggests that the president is bent on replacing our effective layered approach to border security, which allows for the border patrol to apprehend illegal aliens even deep within the interior of the country, with a 21st century Maginot Line, with agents and fancy technology concentrated along the border itself, but free passage for illegal aliens who make it past the frontier.
Clustering all of our assets on the border is an absurd strategy (unless you are concerned more with facilitating illegal immigration than stopping it). With economists forecasting sustained high unemployment for years to come, state and local governments going broke, and foreign drug cartels and terror groups established in hundreds of U.S. cities, the federal government ought to be adding border patrol stations in the interior, not closing them.
The list of stations on the chopping block includes some located in large interior cities with big illegal settlements: Dallas and San Antonio, Texas, and Riverside, California, where the CBP sister enforcement agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), is overwhelmed. The others are in less populous areas, but situated at key highway crossroads that see significant trafficking and smuggling of people and contraband: Abilene, San Angelo, Lubbock, and Amarillo in Texas, plus Billings, Montana, and Twin Falls, Idado.
Localized CBP statistics are hard to come by, but reportedly the Lubbock and Amarillo stations, staffed with nine agents, produced nearly one thousand illegal alien arrests in the last year. Think about it — those nine agents saved a thousand jobs for legal U.S. workers and who knows how many thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded services, not to mention probably prevented a few criminals from setting up shop or driving drunk or recruiting kids into a gang in a town near you.
True, the agents are being relocated, not laid off, but there are good reasons to keep them in the interior rather than on the border itself. Because the Mexican drug cartels have taken control of all routes into the United States, it is impossible now to cross the southern border illegally without paying a smuggler. The process is often violent, but also highly organized. The smugglers exploit the many parts of the border that are still only lightly controlled (85 percent of the southern border is less than tightly controlled, according to the GAO). In addition, smugglers bring loads through legal crossing points, either with fake documents, as imposters, hidden in large trucks, or co-mingled with church groups, sports teams, and musical groups.
It is widely believed that two-thirds of those attempting to cross illegally into the United States will get past the Border Patrol. The smuggled aliens (and other cargo) do not stay in the border area for long. They are taken to drop houses and then put on vans that travel on interstate highways to their destination. It takes as little as 48 hours to get from the southwest border to most points in the continental United States. Points along these highway arteries that formerly were considered off the beaten track, like rural enclaves in North Carolina, Ohio, and Utah, have become outposts for well-armed transnational crime syndicates and the lucrative smuggling networks and street gangs that sustain them.
Local law enforcement officers in the affected areas are irate over the planned closures. The sheriff of Potter County, located in the Texas panhandle, said the loss of the nearby station would affect his agency “tremendously,” as his county is a major corridor for smugglers. “I can’t hold a carload of people out there on I-40 for eight hours while somebody comes from El Paso,” Sheriff Brian Thomas told Fox News.
CBP maintains that ICE will pick up the slack. But ICE has not been given additional staff to do so. Besides, under the Obama administration policies, ICE’s enforcement activities have been severely curtailed and politicized, to the point where agents are directed to target only individual illegal aliens who are already in jail for something else, or who are repeat immigration scofflaws. They may not respond to referrals of illegal aliens that result from traffic stops and are expected to look the other way when vanloads of smuggled aliens are discovered. Disrupting the criminal organizations that each year bring in hundreds of thousands of new illegal workers is not a priority for this administration.
Current and former Border Patrol agents, county sheriffs, and a few members of Congress have protested. But if the recent past is any guide, these objections will be ignored. Congress, through the appropriations process, could force the administration to keep the stations open. However, Congress is in a state of gridlock and preoccupied with many other matters.
This gridlock has enabled the White House to proceed unchecked in its scheme to dismantle immigration law enforcement through executive fiat. Lacking congressional and public support for enacting a massive amnesty for illegal aliens, over the past two years they have implemented a long list of changes that have stemmed the outflow of illegal immigrants brought on by the faltering economy, Bush-era enforcement strategies, and state action.
Each move has been fairly narrowly focused and spaced out in time: draw down the National Guard at the border; substitute virtual fencing for real fencing; forbid Border Patrol agents from screening bus and train passengers; cancel partnership agreements with local law enforcement agencies known as 287(g); dismiss immigration court cases by the thousands; sue states that enact tough laws; forbid worksite raids in favor of audits that avoid contact with illegal workers — the list goes on and on. The new Dream Act amnesty for roughly one million illegal aliens under the age of 30 is the latest and boldest example.
States can step in, either using the Supreme Court-endorsed approaches, like mandatory E-Verify and immigration checks by police, or more direct measures like those adopted in Texas, which now has a state fleet of gun boats to patrol the Rio Grande.
But ultimately it will take a big change in the balance of power in Washington, D.C., to derail the Obama administration’s scheme and rebuild an effective border control program.