NCSL: A New Border Approach

America's poorest communities play a crucial role in border protection. One expert says that greater federal investment would help.
by | August 9, 2011
 

The federal government’s lack of a comprehensive border security plan could be jeopardizing the efforts of state and local law enforcement to protect the country from international criminal organizations, a consultant who works for the state of Texas said Monday.

As Mexican drug cartels fight for territory within Mexico, so to do their affiliated gangs operating in dozens of cities throughout the U.S., typically along major transportation corridors, said Leo Rios, senior vice president for border and port security with Abrams Learning & Information Systems, Inc. Rios, along with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Eric Odden, spoke at the National Conference of Legislatures' 2011 Legislative Summit in San Antonio Monday.

While the border’s first defenses against bad actors are federal agencies, primarily the U.S. Border Patrol, they’re also backed by local and state law enforcement. But those three levels of government lack a singular strategy, Rios said. That lack of a “common doctrine,” Rios said, makes addressing a coordinating a response a challenge, and it is exploited by criminal organizations.

Federal officials in attendance didn’t dispute Rios’ analysis.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection “has a good strategy,” said Odden, the director of the agency’s state, local and tribal liaison office. “It has to be a shared vision with everyone though.”

Rios noted that while the border patrol has vastly increased its number of agents patroling the border, there hasn’t been a corresponding increase in the number of attorneys, court officers and facilities in the federal judicial system. As a result, while arrests are increasing, prosecutions have been delayed.

Rios also said that the communities along the southern border are tasked with a crucial homeland security role, yet they are among the poorest communities in the country. As a result, they lack the resources and manpower to effectively tackle the problem. He called for a greater federal investment in local law enforcement in those regions.

Most importantly, Rios called for a shift in the approach all levels of government take to border security. Traditionally, success for law enforcement has been measured in terms of arrests and prosecutions. Rios called for more of an intelligence-driven approach that seeks to prevent crime in the first place. “The culture has got to be changed,” Rios said.

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