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For Immediate Release
DHS Press Office
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Today I want to talk to you about the important subject of border security – particularly, the security of our southern land border with Mexico.
In fact, over the last 15 years – across the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations -- our government has invested more in border security than at any point in the history of this Nation.
In fact, over the last 15 years, the number of apprehensions on our southwest border -- a major indicator of total attempts to cross the border illegally – has declined significantly; it is now less than a third of what it was in the year 2000, and it’s at its lowest level since the 1970s.
In fact, over the last 15 years, the estimated number of undocumented immigrants in this country grew to a high of about 12.2 million in 2006, dropped to around 11.3 million, and has stopped growing for the first time since the 1980s.[i]
Without a doubt, we had a setback this summer, with the unprecedented number of unaccompanied children and others who crossed a narrow area of our southern border in the Rio Grande Valley, in search of a family member and a better life in this country. We responded aggressively to this spike, and, in fact, now the numbers of unaccompanied children crossing into the Rio Grande Valley are at the lowest they’ve been in almost two years.
But, this is not a “mission accomplished” speech. We can and should do more to best enforce the security of our borders. In this speech I will discuss the past, present and future of our border security efforts.
Not enough has been said publicly by our government – in a clear, concise way -- about our border security efforts on behalf of the American people. And, in the absence of facts, the American public is susceptible to claims that we have an open, “porous” border, through which unaccompanied minors and members of terrorist organizations such as ISIL may pass.
In late June and July, millions of Americans saw the images of the processing centers filled with kids; far fewer Americans know that by early June the spike in illegal migration by unaccompanied kids turned the corner, and it’s now in fact at its lowest number since January 2013.
In September the public heard a claim that four individuals with suspected ties to terrorism in the Middle East had attempted to cross our southern border; far fewer know that, in fact, these four individuals were arrested, their supposed link to terrorism was thoroughly investigated and checked, and in the end amounted to a claim by the individuals themselves that they were members of the Kurdish Worker’s Party – an organization that is actually fighting against ISIL and defended Kurdish territory in Iraq. Nevertheless, these individuals have been arrested for unlawful entry, they are detained, and they will be deported.
In the recent outbreak, there has been only one case so far of Ebola diagnosed in this country. Nevertheless, this Department, the Department of Defense, and CDC are heavily engaged, we are enhancing our Ebola screening of air passengers from the three affected African countries, and we are continually evaluating whether more is appropriate.
As Secretary of Homeland Security, I am committed to more transparency about our border security. This speech today is part of that effort.
Given all we do today, it is hard to believe that as recently as 1904 we had virtually no border patrol at all. Our land borders were completely open to all forms of migration. In 1904, Teddy Roosevelt created the United States Immigration Service. This force consisted of 75 men on horseback, based in El Paso, Texas, responsible for the patrol of the entire 2,300-mile southwest border.[ii]
It was not until 1921 that we began to restrict the numbers of immigrants who could enter this country legally, with the passage of something called the “Emergency Quota Act of 1921.”[iii] That law restricted yearly immigration to three percent of each nationality already present in this country, according to the 1910 census. Prior to that, the only limits on immigration were restrictions on so-called “undesirables.”[iv]
With the numeric limits created in 1921 came a dramatic increase in illegal immigration, which led to the creation of the U.S. Border Patrol in 1924. Originally, the Border Patrol was part of the Department of Labor, and was created to prevent illegal migration across our southern land border with Mexico and our northern border with Canada. In those days there were actually more personnel devoted to the northern border than the southern border, to prevent the smuggling of liquor into the U.S. from Canada during prohibition.[v]
While other government agencies have faced cutbacks and limits in these times of fiscal constraint, our national leaders in Congress and the Executive Branch have chosen to build the Border Patrol to an unprecedented level in resources. Today’s Border Patrol is itself one of the largest agencies of our government, with a budget of $3.5 billion, a total of 23,000 personnel, 20,833 border patrol agents and the largest-ever level of technology and equipment.
Let’s look at that in more detail.
In the Fiscal Year 2000, we had 8,619 Border Patrol agents dedicated to the southwest border; in 2014 that number is 18,127 and growing.
In Fiscal Year 2000 we had just 57.9 miles of primary fence along the southwest border; today we have 352.7 miles of primary fence.
In Fiscal Year 2000 we had 10 miles of secondary fence along the southwest border; today we have 36.3 miles of secondary fence.
In Fiscal Year 2000 we had just 10 miles of vehicle fence in the more remote areas of the southwest border; today we have 299 miles of vehicle fence.
If you include primary, secondary, tertiary and vehicle fence, today there is about 700 miles of total fence across the southwest border, compared to just 77 miles of fence in the year 2000 -- in 14 years we have built almost 10 times more fence across the southwest border.
In Fiscal Year 2000 the Border Patrol had just 17 miles of all-weather roads to get to and from the southwest border; today we have 145.7 miles of these roads strategically placed where we have determined they are needed.
In Fiscal Year 2000 we had just 29 miles of lighting along the southwest border; today we have 70 miles of lighting strategically placed where we have determined it is needed.
Fourteen years ago we had few, if any, underground sensors to detect illegal migration at the southwest border; today we have 11,863 of these devices.
In Fiscal Year 2000 the Border Patrol had 56 aircraft; today that number is 107.
In Fiscal Year 2000 the Border Patrol had no unmanned aerial vehicles; today we have eight of these for surveillance of illegal activity over the southwest border.
In Fiscal Year 2000 the Border Patrol had just two boats to patrol the entire southwest border over waterways like the Rio Grande; today we have 84.
In Fiscal Year 2000 the Border Patrol had one mobile surveillance system; today we have 40.
In Fiscal Year 2000 we had little if any mobile video surveillance capability; today we have 178 of these.
In Fiscal Year 2000 we had 140 remote video surveillance systems; today we have 273 of these.
In Fiscal Year 2014 the Border Patrol has 9,255 pairs of night vision goggles.
In Fiscal Year 2000 the Border Patrol had little or no thermal imaging capability; today we have over 600 of these devices.
Today the Border Patrol has the largest deployment of people, vehicles, aircraft, boats and equipment along the southwest border in its 90-year history.
More than the large numbers of people and equipment, I have a high regard for today’s Border Patrol. In nine and a half months in office, I’ve been to the southwest border seven times. Over the hot summer I observed the Border Patrol and its leadership take on the unprecedented number of kids and families crossing the border in south Texas. They did this in a calm and professional manner, and without complaint, worked overtime and took on duties far beyond the job description.
I salute Border Patrol Chief Fisher for making the Border Patrol’s Use of Force policy public earlier this year, and rewriting it to more explicitly address instances of rock-throwing at the border and the threat presented by vehicles.
I salute CBP Commissioner Kerlikowske for making public the report of the independent Police Executive Research Forum on the use of force by the Border Patrol. I also salute the Commissioner for implementing a unified, formal review process that will more effectively respond to, investigate, review and resolve any use of force incidents involving the Border Patrol in a timely manner.
This Nation’s long term investment in border security has produced significant, positive results over the years. Illegal migration into this country peaked in the year 2000, reflected by over 1.6 million apprehensions that year. As you can see, illegal migration into this country has dropped considerably since then, reflected by the decline in total apprehensions from over 1.6 million in 2000 to around 400,000 a year in recent years. The overall downward trend is no doubt due in large part to economic conditions in both the U.S. and Mexico, but we are certain that it is also due in very large measure to the deterrent factor of our border security efforts. Apprehensions are at the lowest rate since the 1970s.
Slide 24 makes this point. It reflects both the increase in Border Patrol agents and the simultaneous decrease in total apprehensions in the same period.
The bottom line of all this is, in recent years the total number of those who attempt to cross our southwest border has declined dramatically, while the percentage of those who are apprehended has gone up. Put simply, it’s now much harder to cross our border and evade capture than it used to be – and people know that.
The final indicator is the estimated number of undocumented immigrants in this country. According to Pew Research, the number grew to a high of 12.2 million in 2006, dropped, and has remained at about 11.3 million ever since.[vi] So, the population of undocumented immigrants in this country has stopped growing for the first time since the 1980s, and over half these individuals have been in this country nearly 13 years.[vii]
Meanwhile, Mexico has become our third largest trading partner with $507 billion in total two-way trade in 2013,[viii] it is this country’s second largest goods expert market, and more than 1.1 million U.S. jobs are supported by exports from Mexico.[ix]
Our estimate for FY 2014 – and it is still an estimate at this point, as the fiscal year ended just nine days ago – shows a modest increase in apprehensions, to about 480,000.
This increase is almost entirely due to what happened this summer in the Rio Grande Valley. In fact, in FY 2014 about 53 percent of all apprehensions across the southwest border were in the Rio Grande Valley sector of the southwest border.
This summer we saw an unprecedented spike in illegal migration into South Texas. Almost all of this migration came from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. And, as everyone knows, it consisted of large numbers of unaccompanied children and adults with children, which presented a humanitarian dimension to the problem.
You saw the photos of overcrowded processing centers in south Texas. Unlike other spikes in migration in the past, many of these families and kids expected to be apprehended once they crossed the Rio Grande; they were not seeking to evade our Border Patrol agents and all our surveillance, and they probably knew they could not.
In response, we did a number of things. Our message was simple: our border is not open to illegal immigration, and that, if you come here illegally, you will be sent back consistent with our laws and our values.
We put additional border security and law enforcement resources in to South Texas.
We opened new processing centers across the Southwest to handle the additional illegal migration, in McAllen, Texas, Nogales, Arizona and elsewhere.
We reassigned hundreds of border patrol agents to the Rio Grande Valley Sector to manage the increased apprehensions in that sector.
We dramatically reduced the time it takes to repatriate an adult from an average of 33 days down to four days. We added additional flights to repatriate people back faster to their home countries.
We built more detention space, in Artesia, New Mexico and Karnes, Texas.
We dedicated resources to the prosecution of the criminal smuggling organizations – the Coyotes -- that were inducing people to take the long, dangerous journey from Central America.
We launched a renewed public messaging campaign in Central America, highlighting the dangers of the journey, and correcting the misinformation the coyotes are putting out about supposed “free passes” if you come to the United States.
Vice President Biden visited Central America and met with the leaders there to coordinate our response.
President Obama himself met with the presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in Washington to coordinate our response to the situation.
The government of Mexico also did a considerable amount to interdict this migration from Central America.
The good news is, since mid-June, the numbers of illegal migrants crossing into south Texas has gone down considerably. The high-water mark was June 10, 2014. Since then the number of unaccompanied children has declined steadily.
The same thing is reflected on a monthly basis. In May 2014 10,580 unaccompanied children crossed the southwest border; in June 10,622 crossed the border; in July 5,501; August was 3,141; and September was 2,424. The monthly numbers are now the lowest they’ve been in almost two years. In terms of the year-end number, our original projection in January was 60,000 unaccompanied children would cross the southwest border illegally in FY 2014. During the summer we revised that projection upward to 90,000. The fact is the final year-end number is 68,434, not far off the original projection of 60,000.
The decline in illegal migration by parents who brought their children followed a similar path this year.
Though the worst is over for now -- from the spike this summer and the high in illegal migration 15 years ago – the President and I are committed to building an even more secure border, and a smart strategy to get there. Much of illegal migration is seasonal. The spike in migration we saw this summer could return. The poverty and violence that are the “push factors” in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador still exist. The economy in this country – a “pull factor” -- is getting better.
Thus, there is still more we can and should do.
Risk-based strategy. First, as we are doing across the Department of Homeland Security in a variety of contexts, we will continue to build a risk-based strategy for border security. Our southern border is a mixture of winding river, desert and mountains. Simply building more fences is not the answer. My predecessor used to say build a 50-foot fence and I’m sure someone else will build a 51-foot ladder. Today we have the intelligence capability, surveillance equipment and technology to do more. Much of that is already deployed on the border today. We need to go further in this direction, so that we can focus our resources where our intelligence and our surveillance tell us the threats exist. This is a smart, effective and efficient use of taxpayer resources.
And here’s a vivid example of what I mean. We know where the risk areas are. We need to focus on these areas. And if the risk areas start to move someplace else, we get there first.
The Southern Border campaign plan. Second, to best accomplish our border security goals along the southern border, and consistent with the overall Unity of Effort initiative I announced in April, I have directed that the Department of Homeland Security embark on a common, Department-wide Southern Border campaign plan. This plan will put to use, in a strategic and coordinated way, the assets and personnel of Customs and Border Protection, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Citizenship and Immigration Services, the Coast Guard, and other resources of the Department when and if necessary. We are discarding the stove pipes.
To pursue this Southern Border campaign plan, we are, first, developing a Department-wide strategy for the security of the Southern border and approaches. We will then direct the resources and activities of the Department’s components accordingly.
Our overarching goals will be effective enforcement and interdiction across land, sea, and air; degrade transnational criminal organizations; and do these things without impeding the flow of lawful trade, travel, and commerce across our borders. We are now in the midst of developing the more specific plan to pursue these goals, and associated metrics. A planning team from across the Department led by Coast Guard Vice Admiral Charles Michel is developing lines of effort, actions, and milestones to accomplish these goals in an effective, cost-efficient manner.
We will then take the logical next step in this plan and establish three new Department task forces, each headed by a senior official of this Department, to direct the resources of CBP, ICE, CIS and the Coast Guard in three discrete areas. The first, Joint Task Force-East, will be responsible for our maritime ports and approaches across the southeast. The second, Joint Task Forces-West, will be responsible for our southwest land border and the West coast of California. And the third will be a standing Joint Task Force for Investigations to support the work of the other two Task Forces.
These efforts -- Department-wide campaign planning and Joint Task Forces -- will enable more effective, more efficient, and more unified homeland security and border security efforts across our southern border and approaches.
A commitment to transparency.
Finally, there is much more we can do to inform the public about our border security efforts on their behalf.
Within the Department we are developing metrics for measuring and evaluating our border security efforts, and we intend to make those metrics public. I am bolstering our Office of Immigration Statistics by adding new statisticians. I have instructed that this Office establish a linkage with all the components of the Department with a border security or immigration mission, so that the data publicized by this Office reflects what is happening Department-wide.
With transparency comes responsibility. Those of us in public office, and in the media – whether in describing the border, ISIL or Ebola -- owe the public informed, careful, and responsible dialogue, not overheated rhetoric that is certain to feed the flames of fear, anxiety and suspicion.
As I have said many times, homeland security means striking a balance. In the name of homeland security, I can build you a perfectly safe city, but it will be a prison. I can build more fences, install more invasive screening devices, ask more intrusive questions, demand more answers, and alarm the public enough to make everybody suspicious of each other and simply stay at home. But, this will cost us who we are as a Nation of people who respect the law, cherish privacy, enjoy the freedom to travel and associate, celebrate our diversity, and who are not afraid.
In the final analysis, these are the things that constitute our greatest strength as a Nation.
Thank you for listening.
[i] Jeffrey S. Passel, D’Vera Cohn, Jens Manuel Krogstad and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, “As Growth Stalls, Unauthorized Immigrant Population Becomes More Settled,” Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project (September 3, 2014).
[iii] Public Law 67-5, 42 Stat. 5, 67th Congress (1921).
[iv] 1 Charles Gordon, Stanley Mailman and Stephen Yale-Loehr, Immigration Law and Procedure, sections 2.02-2.04 (2004).
[vi] Jeffrey S. Passel, D’Vera Cohen, Jens Manuel Krogstad and Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, “As Growth Stalls, Unauthorized Immigrant Population Becomes More Settled,” Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project (September 3, 2014).