How effective is CBP in keeping U.S. borders safe?

Published 2 September 2009

According to DHS, the vast majority — more than 70 percent — of illegal aliens and contraband attempting to move across our border through official ports of entry will succeed

In fiscal 2008 U.S. Border Patrol officers working at checkpoints that are typically set up along roads and highways 25 to 100 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border stopped three people “who were identified as persons linked to terrorism,” according to information provided by the Border Patrol to the Government Accountability Office. “In addition,” says a GAO report released Monday, “the Border Patrol reported that in fiscal year 2008 checkpoints encountered 530 aliens from special interest countries, which are countries the Department of State has determined to represent a potential terrorist threat to the United States.”

According to DHS, which oversees the Border Patrol, the vast majority of illegal aliens and contraband attempting to move across our border through official ports of entry will succeed. In other words, Terry Jeffrey writes in, U.S. border security fails most of the time — not out in remote desert areas, but at official ports of entry where people and vehicles can be stopped and screened.

At the ports of entry,” reports GAO, “CBP (Customs and Border Patrol) has both increased training for agents and enhanced technology. However, the DHS Annual Performance Report for fiscal years 2008-2010 sets a goal for detecting and apprehending about 30 percent of major illegal activity at ports of entry in 2009, indicating that 70 percent of criminals and contraband may pass through the ports and continue on interstates and major roads to the interior of the United States.”

DHS’s in-house performance review “paints a disturbing picture of an agency failing in carrying out a vital national security function of the federal government,” Jeffrey writes.

On 15 January, the outgoing Bush administration published the “Department of Homeland Security Annual Performance Report: Fiscal Years 2008-2010.” The report, which quantifies the department’s recent past performance and sets future goals, was updated by the Obama administration on 7 May.

The report says DHS’s No. 1 goal is: “Protect our nation from dangerous people.” One objective for achieving this goal is: “Strengthen screening of travelers and workers.” It defines this as “(r)educing the risk that potential terrorists or others who pose a threat will exploit travel and employment opportunities to harm our Nation.”

On page 36, the report lists inspections at ports of entry as one of the programs designed to achieve this objective and says DHS’s goal for this program is improve “the targeting, screening, and apprehension of high-risk international cargo and travelers to prevent terrorist attacks, while providing processes to facilitate the flow of safe and legitimate trade and travel.”

One “measure” of whether DHS is achieving this goal, the DHS report says, is “land border apprehension rates for major violations.”

In fiscal year 2008, says the DHS report, the department set a goal of apprehending 35 percent of the major violations at border ports of entry. The report estimates that DHS actually apprehended only 28.9 percent. Approximately 71.1 percent of “major violations” got through.

Jeffrey notes that had DHS met its goal, 65 percent of major violations would have gotten through.

In fiscal 2009 DHS’s goal is to apprehend only 28 percent of the major violations at border ports entry. For fiscal 2010, which begins next month, DHS has set a goal of apprehending 29 percent of the major violations.

That means,” Jeffrey writes, “that next year — if DHS actually achieves its goal — 71 percent of major violators presenting themselves at U.S. border ports will be allowed to enter the United States undetected.”

Jeffrey concludes: ‘Before President Obama closes the Guantanamo Bay prison where we keep the terrorists we do capture, perhaps he should secure the ports of entry at our border where a terrorist has about a 70 percent chance of escaping capture.”