U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency in the Department of Homeland Security that is responsible for securing the nation's land borders, says it will increase its goal for the number of border miles it will have under "effective control" in fiscal year 2010, CBP Director of Media Relations Lloyd Easterling told me this week.
The goal will be increased from the previously set mark of 815 to at least 894, the number of miles the Border Patrol says is under "effective control" as of now.
At the same time, the Border Patrol will carry out a plan to reduce the number of agents deployed on the U.S.-Mexico border by 384.
According to DHS, its measure of "border miles under effective control" applies to the entire 8,607 miles for which the Border Patrol is responsible. This includes almost 2,000 miles on the U.S.-Mexico border, about 4,000 miles on the U.S.-Canada border (not counting the Alaska-Canada border) and sectors of coastline in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"Border miles under effective control" is defined by CBP as meaning "when the appropriate mix of personnel, equipment, technology and tactical infrastructure has been deployed to reasonably ensure that when an attempted illegal entry is detected, the Border Patrol has the ability to identify, classify and respond to bring the attempted illegal entry to a satisfactory law enforcement resolution."
As reported in this column two weeks ago, DHS's annual performance report as updated on May 7 said that the department's goal was to have 815 miles of border under "effective control" in fiscal 2009 and to maintain that same number in fiscal 2010, which begins in October.
In other words, DHS did not intend to secure a single additional mile of border in the coming year.
The report attributed this lack of progress in part to "plans to move several hundred Agents from the Southwest Border to the Northern Border to meet the FY 2010 staffing requirements."
Despite publishing a goal on May 7 of having 815 miles of border under effective control in both fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010, Acting Deputy Assistant Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Todd Owen told Congress in July that the Border Patrol already had more miles than that under effective control as of May 31.
"As of May 31, 2009, we have determined that 894 miles of border are under effective control," Owen testified in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. "This includes 697 miles along the southwest border, 32 along the northern border and 165 in the coastal regions."
Easterling said this week that as of now the Border Patrol still has the same 894 miles of border under effective control that it had under effective control on May 31. He said the agency will not surrender a single one of these miles in the coming year.
"The intention is to take back the border incrementally and make gains that we can keep," Easterling told me. "We do not intend, nor will we give back, miles that we have gained control over." Easterling said that when the new fiscal year starts next month, the Border Patrol will review its data and re-evaluate its goal. At a minimum, he said, the agency will set a goal for border miles secured that equals the 894 miles secured now. If possible, it will set a higher goal. But it will not decrease the number of border miles that are secured.
It will maintain at least the current level even while decreasing the number of agents deployed on the Mexico border.
In fiscal year 2009, Easterling said, there have been 17,399 Border Patrol agents deployed on the Mexican border. In fiscal year 2010, he said, the plan is to deploy 17,015, a decline of 384 agents. Meanwhile, the Border Patrol agents assigned to the Canadian border will climb from 1,798 to 2,212, an increase of 414.
Easterling said that even with 384 fewer agents deployed on the Mexican border, the Border Patrol will be able to maintain at least the current number of border miles under effective control because of "force multipliers." These include "tactical infrastructure" such as new roads and fencing that have been built, as well as assistance from local police and sheriffs departments and community watch organizations.
If the 697 miles of U.S.-Mexico border now under effective control is maintained in the coming year, that will leave approximately 1,300 miles of U.S-Mexico border that are not under effective control.