The Border Patrol’s priorities have changed over the years. In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act placed renewed emphasis on controlling illegal immigration by going after the employers that hire illegal immigrants. The belief was that jobs were the magnet that attracted most illegal immigrants to come to the United States. The Border Patrol increased interior enforcement and Form I-9 audits of businesses through an inspection program known as “employer sanctions”. Several agents were assigned to interior stations, such as within the Livermore Sector in Northern California.
Employer sanctions never became the effective tool it was expected to be by Congress. Illegal immigration continued to swell after the 1986 amnesty despite employer sanctions. By 1993, Californians passed Proposition 187, denying benefits to illegal immigrants and criminalizing illegal immigrants in possession of forged green cards, I.D. cards and Social Security Numbers. It also authorized police officers to question non-nationals as to their immigration status and required police and sheriff departments to cooperate and report illegal immigrants to the INS. Proposition 187 drew nationwide attention to illegal immigration.
United States Border Patrol Interior Checkpoints are inspection stations operated by the USBP within 100 miles (160 km) of a national border (with Mexico or Canada) or in the Florida Keys.
El Paso Sector’s Operation Hold the Line
El Paso Sector Chief Patrol Agent Silvestre Reyes started a program called “Operation Hold the Line”. In this program, Border Patrol agents would no longer react to illegal entries resulting in apprehensions, but would instead be forward deployed to the border, immediately detecting any attempted entries or deterring crossing at a more remote location. The idea was that it would be easier to capture illegal entrants in the wide open deserts than through the urban alleyways. Chief Reyes deployed his agents along the Rio Grande River, within eyesight of other agents. The program significantly reduced illegal entries in the urban part of El Paso, however, the operation merely shifted the illegal entries to other areas.
San Diego Sector’s Operation Gatekeeper
San Diego Sector tried Silvestre Reyes’ approach of forward deploying agents to deter illegal entries into the country. Congress authorized the hiring of thousands of new agents, and many were sent to San Diego Sector. In addition, Congressman Duncan Hunter obtained surplus military landing mats to use as a border fence. Stadium lighting, ground sensors and infra-red cameras were also placed in the area. Eventually the primitive landing mat fence was replaced with a modern triple fence line that begins over one hundred yards into the Pacific Ocean at Imperial Beach, CA and ends more than thirteen miles (19 km) inland on Otay Mesa where the mountains begin. Apprehensions decreased dramatically in that area as people crossed in different regions.
Tucson Sector’s Operation Safeguard
California was no longer the hotbed of illegal entry and the traffic shifted to Arizona, primarily in Nogales (currently the largest border patrol station in the United States). The Border Patrol instituted the same deterrent strategy it used in San Diego to Arizona.
Through agency whistler-blowers it was reveled that in 2001, the Border Patrol had approximately 324 agents assigned along the Canada – United States border border. Northern border staffing had been increased by 1,128 agents to 1,470 agents by the end of fiscal year 2008, and is projected to expand to 1,845 by the end of fiscal year 2009, a sixfold increase. Resources that support Border Patrol agents include the use of new technology and a more focused application of air and marine assets.
The northern border sectors are Blaine (Washington), Buffalo (New York), Rochester (New York), Detroit (Selfridge ANGB, Michigan), Grand Forks (North Dakota), Havre (Montana), Houlton (Maine), Spokane (Washington), and Swanton (Vermont).
Border Patrol moves away from interior enforcement
In the 1990s, Congress mandated that the Border Patrol shift agents away from the interior and focus them on the borders.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security created two immigration enforcement agencies out of the defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). ICE was tasked with investigations, detention and removal of illegal immigrants, and interior enforcement. CBP was tasked with inspections at U.S. ports of entry and with preventing illegal entries between the port of entry, transportation check, and entries on U.S. coastal borders. DHS management decided to align the Border Patrol with CBP. CBP itself is solely responsible for the nation’s ports of entry, while Border Patrol maintains jurisdiction over all locations between ports of entry, giving Border Patrol agents federal authority absolutely nationwide.
In July 2004, the Livermore Sector of the United States Border Patrol was closed. Livermore Sector served Northern California and included stations at Dublin (Parks Reserve Forces Training Area), Sacramento, Stockton, Fresno and Bakersfield. The Border Patrol also closed other stations in the interior of the United States including Roseburg, Oregon and Little Rock, Arkansas. The Border Patrol functions in these areas consisted largely of local jail and transportation terminal checks for illegal immigrants. These functions were turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The new strategy
Cameras add “Smart Border” surveillance.
In November 2005, the U.S. Border Patrol published an updated national strategy. The goal of this updated strategy is operational control of the United States border. The strategy has five main objectives:
- Apprehend terrorists and terrorist weapons illegally entering the United States;
- Deter illegal entries through improved enforcement;
- Detect, apprehend, and deter smugglers of humans, drugs, and other contraband;
- Use “smart border” technology; and
- Reduce crime in border communities, improving quality of life.