Past, Present and Future of Border Security

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The security of the US frontier has faced significant difficulties over the past few decades, particularly as a result of the persistence of international terrorism. The protection of ports, airports, and land boundaries all fall under the purview of border security. In the US, ensuring border security is primarily the responsibility of the federal government. Long before the 9/11 terrorist assault, border security concerns existed in the US. But over time, the nature of boundary challenges has changed. The first federal immigration law was passed in 1798, giving the President the authority to detain or deport any foreign national deemed to pose a danger to the nation. (Rosenblum, et al, 2013). Similarly, any grown-up male person from a nation at war with the US was to be deported from the country. In the 20th century, legislations were enacted to except security concerns such as communists (1950), anarchists (1904), terrorists (1996) and foreigners deemed a security threat in the period of war (1918) (Rollins, 2011).

The focus and mission of border security in the country has transformed over the years. In 1924, the US Border Patrol was formed aiming to control the alcohol influxes in the course of Prohibition as many these agents were posted on the Northern border. In the 1960s, and 1970s US-Mexico border provided new threats, which led to stricter border controls to counter smuggling of drugs (Rollins, 2011). More actions were initiated at the Southwest Border in order to eliminate unauthorized migration and narcotics inflow in 1970s. After first bombing of World Trade Center in 1993, the US, started paying attention on counterterrorism efforts at border points. However, counterterrorism becomes the top priority for the country after 9/11 attack (Mueller & Stewart, 2011).

Moreover, following the events of 9/11, the US government has emphasized the importance of features of homeland security especially intelligence reforms. Similarly, various actions have been introduced to enhance border security in the country (Rosenblum, et al, 2013). For instance, the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and execution of different new procedures and policies to improve the safety level in America’s airports, ports and borders. Since the enactment of new border security measures, more personnel, equipment, and facilities has been dedicated to this mission (Mueller & Stewart, 2011). For instance, the federal budget devoted for border security has increased to $12.4 billion in 2014 from 6.6 billion in 2003, which represent 91 percent rise. Nonetheless, security threats still exist through the airports, ports, and land borders in the US. In this respect, future strategies and procedures to counter the concerns should concentrates on identifying and controlling new threats to border security.

Research Hypothesis

Various security concerns at the point of entry pose high risk to US border security

The current border security legislations and policies are effective in countering border security concerns in the US.

The new border security measures have caused huge cost implications in the US.

Research Questions

What are the major types of security concerns at point of entry of the US?

What is the effectiveness level of current security policies in the US border security?

What are cost implications of border security measures in the United States?

Literature Review

Types of Security Concerns at US point of entry

The US faces a wide range of security concerns at its borders especially from terrorists possessing weapons of mass destruction and international criminals involved in counterfeit or smuggled goods and drugs. Illegal migrants aiming to work and live in the country pose similar border security challenges. Research by Rosenblum, et al, (2013) noted that the US ports and borders are demanding places since they deal with millions of individuals and hundreds of millions of freight containers entering the nation annually. Additionally, thousands of banned cargo items and illegal migrants are turned away, arrested or seized each year. However, some of the illegal migrants enter the US after escaping detention while hundreds of contrabands such as unauthorized drugs are sneaked into the country (Rosenblum, et al, 2013). Most of the immigrants are human trafficking victims.

According to a study by (Best Jr, 2010), the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) forbids the admission of any foreigner who has participated in terrorism, likely to participate, or endorses terrorism. The main goal of the terrorist is to impart fear among the directed people as well as destruct the shared confidence people have in national leadership or institutions (Best Jr, 2010). Therefore, the US border points are exposed to violent tactics used by these groups aiming to draw attention of the public towards their coerce people, gain recruits and grievances.

Moreover, the study noted that transnational criminals attempt to use the US border points aiming to engage in money laundering, human trafficking, extortion, kidnapping prostitution and narcotics trafficking. Some of the criminal gang that poses a threat to the US include the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Zetas Transnational Criminal Organization. Profit benefits encourage criminals to offer services and goods that are either in low supply, regulated or illegal (Best Jr, 2010). Furthermore, illegal migrants using the US points of entry poses a major security threat to the nation. According to Rollins, (2011), foreigners who are inspired by job opportunities in the country and a motivation to enhance their socio-economic status use the US borders to enter into the country. These people normally run away from their home country due to difficult or dangerous political environment. Most of them use fake documents to acquire job opportunities in the country while others become engaged with international criminal organizations in the process of their migration or during the course of securing job (Rollins, 2011). However, the researcher noted that transnational migrants are not inspired by terrorist activities or radical ideologies.

The US border points are critical entry or exit points of illegal goods that pose major threats to public safety. Rosenblum, et al, (2013) noted that certain categories of goods such as counterfeit goods, illegal drugs and weapons are passed through the borders. Some of these goods are unconditionally prohibited. Others goods that are formally acceptable are also smuggled in order to evade payment of taxes, and specific regulations (Rosenblum, et al, 2013).

Effectiveness of US border policies and regulations

Various scholarly evidence points out that previous border security regulations and policies have yielded successful results in countering border security concerns. According to Willis, et al, (2010), since the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2002, major terrorism threats have been controlled and eradicated (Willis, et al, 2010). Moreover, the findings indicated than between 2009 and 2012, the Department of Homeland Security has apprehended almost double the amount of weapons, a third more illegal drugs, and more than three quarters of the money as compared to 2006-2008 along the US-Mexican border. Moreover, a study conducted by Applegate, (2011) highlighted that the heighted security operations along the Southwest border, the cities along this border has become more safer than before in the country. The findings of the study noted that states along the Southwest border have witnessed a mean reduction of 40 percent in violent rates of crime in the past decade (Applegate, 2011). More notably, the four main cities in the United States with the lowest rates of crime are found in the Border States. In this regard, the increased safety results have been attributed to the effectiveness of the border security efforts in the US (Willis, et al, 2010).

Furthermore, Danelo, (2011) suggested that the US border security efforts have contributed to controlling illegitimate drugs smuggling. Precisely, it policies has played a major part in distracting the market for prohibited narcotics, minimizing the drug addiction and abuse in the country and preventing drug initiation among the high risk groups. The success witnessed in this field has been realized due to partnership between DHS and other government agencies (Danelo, 2011). More importantly, the border policies have led to networked intelligence, deterrence and interdiction. Consequently, interdiction ability has helped to intercept narcotics before they reach the unauthorized narcotics markets. Better coordination of the intelligence services by the ICE, USCG and CBP has helped the local, state and federal agencies to launch drug, and counterterrorism operations (Applegate, 2011). Nevertheless, the studies did not discuss on the effectiveness of border legislation on reducing human trafficking in the country.

Cost implications of the US border security measures

Since the introduction of the post-9/11 terrorist attack, the US government has spent huge amount of resources in the border security efforts. Various studies have noted that from 1990 to date, the fiscal annual budget for border security has increased significantly. Moreover, research by Alden & Roberts, (2011), pointed out that since mid-1980s, the US administration has consumed more than $263 billion on border enforcement efforts. The resources are used on interior enforcement and border security especially financing the DHS and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) (Alden & Roberts, 2011). In 2016, there was more than 49,000 staff working as interior enforcement or border security officers. Moreover, between 2003 and 2016, the size of US Border Patrol staff almost doubled while the size of ICE personnel working at enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) almost rose by three times (Massey & Pren, 2016).

The US has increased the fencing perimeter along the Southern border to 650 miles. In addition, it has the highest number of workers for CBP and ICE in history including drones. Some of the projects initiated to enhance border security have been too costly and ineffective. For instance, in 2005, the government intended to build a virtual fence to cover the Southwest border (Mueller & Stewart, 2011). A study by Massey & Pren, (2016) highlighted that in 2016; more than $3.8 billion was used to promote security along Mexico-US border as compared to $363 million in 1993. For this reason, it indicates that the US efforts to strengthen the border security have been very costly to the country. Therefore, the government should employ efficient and smart utilization of resources meant for border security (Massey & Pren, 2016). However, the studies present major gaps in the US government in terms of efficient use of allocated resources to promote border security.


The US government has initiated a wide range of border security measures to promote security to its citizens. Since 1793, the border policies have transformed based on the changing nature of security concerns across the globe. For instances terrorism and narcotics have caused major changes in the border control legislations. In addition, the US government has used large amount of resources in border security departments (Danelo, 2011). However, the efficiency of cost of governing points of entry is in question. The future border security measures should concentrates on effectiveness of the technique and efficiency use of resources.


Alden, E., & Roberts, B. (2011). Are US Borders Secure: Why We Don't Know, and How to Find Out. Foreign Aff., 90, 19.

Applegate, A. (2011). Countering Violence Along the United States-Mexico Border: Thinking Strategically. DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT.

Best Jr, R. A. (2010). Securing America’s Borders: The Role of the Intelligence Community. DIANE Publishing.

Danelo, D. J. (2011). Toward A US-Mexico Security Strategy: The Geopolitics of Northern Mexico and the Implications for US Policy. Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Massey, D. S., & Pren, K. A. (2016). Unintended consequences of US immigration policy: explaining the post‐1965 surge from Latin America. Population and Development Review, 38(2), 1-29.

Mueller, J., & Stewart, M. G. (2011). Terror, security, and money: Balancing the risks, benefits, and costs of homeland security. Oxford University Press.

Rollins, J. (2011). Ten Years After the Terrorist Attacks of 9/11: The Need for a Transnational Approach to Address Risks to US Global Security Interests. Homeland Security Affairs, 7(2).

Rosenblum, M. R., Bjelopera, J. P., & Finklea, K. M. (2013). Border security: Understanding threats at US borders.

Willis, H. H., Predd, J. B., Davis, P. K., & Brown, W. P. (2010). Measuring the Effectiveness of Border Security Between Ports of Entry. RAND NATIONAL DEFENSE RESEARCH INST SANTA MONICA CA.

July 15, 2023

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