Importance of Border Security Measures in National Security



Border security contains continuously evolving policies due to the evolution of threats and terrorism. Since the US Border Patrol was created in 1924, their challenges and threats have changed, driving them to adapt their methods in order to maintain national security. National security experts continuously contend that indecisiveness and ineffectiveness within immigration concerns and border vulnerability leaves the country susceptible to even greater national security challenges. This study analyzes the US border security policies implemented in the past, the various measures used, and if they were considered successful. Focusing on the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administration, this study outlines the threats and challenges during that time and what successful measures were implemented. This paper will then analyze the threats posed and impact of breaches in border security, the action taken in response, and the effectiveness.


This paper will analyze the measureable relationship between successful measures implemented, challenges, and effectiveness. The United States government has attempted to apply border control policies since the 1990s, however the emphasis placed on US border security has increased heavily in the past20 years. Globalization has amplified cross-border flow of goods, people, and money, further increasing the challenge of maintaining a states’ territorial sovereignty. To combat this rising challenge, there have been vast increases in border security funding, staffing and technology deployments.

There are many challenges that each Presidential Administration has faced while addressing the question of border security. The sheer size of the border between the US and Mexico is a task all in its own. President Clinton inherited a war on the trafficking of illegal narcotics and organized crime, President Bush was left with the outrage and sheer shock after the 9/11 attack and President Obama dealt with the evolving terrorist threats by transnational actors and the continuous flow of illegal migrants into the United States. In response to these evolving challenges, each administration has implemented various measures in order to successfully combat threats to border security. This study will focus on the challenges of securing US borders and the successful measures implemented by each administration that has led to a more cohesive border security policy.


Research Question

  1. What successful measures have successive US Administrations taken on the issue of border security?
  1. How effective have these measures been?

Thesis Statement

Each Administration has taken continuous measures to protect and secure borders and increase national security effectively. They have done this by adapting to continuously changing threats due to globalization.

Data Collection

This paper will rely on qualitative research to examine the measures successive US Presidential Administrations have taken on the issue of border security. This study will utilize the public White House Archives and peer reviewed articles to analyze the Clinton, Bush and Obama Administrations to further compare the measures used and challenges faced. This paper focuses on the last three administrations because this is when the US began increasing border control agents and INS/DHS budgets. Literature has discovered that there are flaws within border security, but they often fail to see how far each administration has come in terms of effectiveness.


There is a 2,000 mile geo-political divide between the United States and Mexico, and it has become one of the most frequently crossed borders in the world. Border security provides safety for a country and is an important mean through which national security is implemented. It is essential to economic prosperity, national sovereignty, and homeland security (DHS, 2017). Border security is responsible for the control and examination of what enters and leaves a country. This aspect is especially important due to current terrorist threats and organized crime. Not only does border security deal with the movement and control of citizens in and out of a country, but they also control the spread of disease and prevent smuggling of weapons, drugs, and endangered animals. The data provided in the literature is mainly focused on the lack of cohesiveness within border security, but they fail to show what progress has been made. Each presidential administration is faced with evolving immigration issues due to globalization. This study will look specifically at the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administration focusing on their policies on border security and what successful measures were taken.

This constantly evolving issue has resulted in literature seeking to explain this phenomenon based on the Organizational Design Theory (ODT). ODT contains the contingency theory school of thought. This theory is based on the concept that each situation is different and, in order to be effective, emphasis needs to be placed on the relationship between the environmental variable and the design. (Mintzberg, 1980). A flexible and adaptable adhocracy structure must be created in order to sufficiently address border security (Lunenburg, 2012). This coincides with the current border security issues the United States faces. The threats and challenges are evolving, therefore, the measures used to effectively address them should be developed based on each different situation.

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Although border security has been an important aspect of national security since the US Border Control’s creation in 1942, it still remains a vague area of study with very little literature within International Relations. Overall, there was a substantial lack in coordination, information sharing, and synchronization within the border security logistics system (Nieto-Gomez, 2011). Also, due to the lack of consensus among policy makers and law enforcement agencies, policies have been historically inefficient. Very little literature has been written on the actual level of effectiveness in comparison to the growing list of challenges.

The Migration Policy Institute created a report in 2011 on the challenges of effective border control in the US. This report highlights one of the major issues within border security by stating that 30-40 percent of the unauthorized immigrants in the United States entered legally, however, they overstay their visas due to poor monitoring (Koslowski, 2011). Another issue is one of practicality; objects of border control are not static (Koslowski, 2011).

This paper will look at Edward Alden’s research on the attempted overhaul of the visa system and the benefits we have seen (2012). Alden also delves into the challenge of securing a border with a sensible immigration system without weakening the US economy (2012). However, Alden’s research focuses on immigration reform rather than preventative infrastructure (fencing). This study will also look at Josiah Heyman’s analysis on the US-Mexico border and the alternative vision of “quality” (dangerous entrants) over “quantity” (mass migration enforcement) (2013). However, this author argued that law enforcement at the ports should be border security’s main concern, rather than the areas in between port cities. This study focuses heavily on the vetting of migrants instead of the issue of illegal immigration.


Importance of Border Security

Border security is an essential component of national security. It is more than just restricting territorial access through immigration reform. It also protects states against illegal movement of drugs, weapons, and contraband. Since the formation of sovereign nations, this has been a core action within states, and is seen as one of the most ambitious expansion of power in modern history. According to the Department of Homeland Security, border security is, “the act of protecting our borders from illegal movement of weapons, drugs, contraband, and people, while promoting lawful entry and exit, is essential to homeland security, economic prosperity, and national sovereignty” (2015). Due to growing violence by nonstate groups and transnational terrorism, there has been an overwhelming increase of focus on border security to combat recent national security issues. Weak and porous borders permit easy entrance into the US for terrorists and smugglers. While completely sealing the border is not feasible at this time, the ultimate goal is to reduce the possibility of dangerous people crossing the border (Koslowski, 2011).


The concept of border security has evolved greatly due to the threat of terrorism. The US federal government combats a variety of threats to their border. The main threats include illegal immigrants, organized crime, and terrorism.

  • Illegal immigrants aiming to work and live in the US illegally creates a border security concern. Along with illegal entry offences, some unauthorized immigrants become involved in transnational crime during their migration.
  • Organized crimes are criminal activities that are planned and controlled by powerful groups and carried out on a large scale (Organized Crime, 2017). These traffickers smuggle drugs, counterfeit goods, people, and firearms into the US. Their crimes included prostitution, commercialized vice, and money laundering. This has been identified as a threat to national security and border security (Ilias, 2011). These individuals are predominately non-ideological and are driven by the pursuit of profit.
  • Transnational Terrorist is someone who illegally crosses the border with transformational goals that may include the destruction of a political or economic system. They are motivated by particular grievances about aspects of the society and they articulate their views on moral grounds (Rosenblum, 2013). Although the DHS has no credible information on terrorist groups operating along the US and Mexico border, the threat is still there.

The Clinton Administration (1993-2001)

This is when the US sees the first initial crackdown on border control. The main concern during this time was the threat of illegal drug smuggling across the Mexico and US border.  To combat these challenges, President Clinton’s strategy included the buildup of the Border Patrol and implementing Operation Gatekeeper and Safeguards 1993 (OIG, 1998). He allocated funds for 700 new border control agents, deployed underground sensors, infrared night scope, and began the progressive building of the wall between Mexico and the United States. The first formal national border control strategy was created in 1994 (Meissner, 2013). In 1996, Congress executed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA). This Act was created to combat the abundance of fraudulent immigration-related documents, alien smugglers, and increased criminal penalties for racketeering (Meissner, 2013). It further expressed the need for more patrollers, better procedures, and more advanced technology. In addition, Clinton implemented the National Drug Control Strategy to block drugs at the border and cut off drugs at the source. This strategy increased drug enforcement agents for border and customs control of illegal drug trafficking. Their budget for 2000 included almost $18 billion to further prevent drugs from crossing the US border.

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We can measure the effectiveness of this Administration by looking at statistics and the progress it has made. This Administration was the first to place a high priority on the removal of criminal aliens. It introduced US government’s commitment to allocate more funds for border resources and enforcement infrastructure. The Immigration Enforcement budget rose from less than $3 billion in 1993 to over $6 billion in 2001 (Meissner, 2013). Overall, this Administration made a noticeable effort to restrain illegal immigration and prevent drugs from crossing the border. There was a 2.5% decrease in drug relation crimes between 1993 and 2000 (Farley, 2016).

The Bush Administration (2001-2009)

The Bush Administration was subject to one of the biggest threats to national security. The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 sparked a transformation in the approaches traditionally used to secure borders and combat terrorism. This Administration strove to create a “smart border” that incorporated advanced tracking technology and extensive prescreening of low-risk traffic (Koslowski, 2011).

This Administration implemented many new border security measures after the terrorist attack. One of the biggest changes was the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in order to streamline and improve the government’s ability to protect their nation’s infrastructure and borders. It replaced 22 separate agencies to reduce the disconnected nature and create one strong mission. The Bush Administration also implemented the Secure Fence Act of 2006. This authorized the construction of almost 700 miles of additional fencing along the southern border (White House, 2008). It also approved more vehicle barriers, checkpoints, and lighting. In conjunction with the DHS, this Act also increased the use of advanced technology like cameras, satellites, and unmanned aerial vehicles to reinforce the infrastructure at the border. Additionally in 2006, President Bush approved Operation Jump Start. This two year support mission called for 6,000 National Guard members to assist with surveillance, training, and installing fences (Rosenblum, 2013). Lastly, in 2008, all cross-border travelers were required to present further documents to establish their identity and citizenship preventing further illegal immigration. To fund these new implementations, the budget for border security and immigration enforcement increased by 159 percent. The budget rose from $4.8 Billion in 2001 to $12.3 Billion in 2008 (White House, 2008).

The effectiveness of the measures taken by this administration can be show with statistics. Operation Jump Start apprehended over 5,000 aliens, seized 28,000 pounds of marijuana, and almost 1,500 pounds of cocaine (Operation Jump Start, 2015). The DHS saw a 20% reduction in apprehension of illegal aliens at the Southern border in 2007 (White House, 2008). This indicates that stronger security has deterred aliens from attempting to cross. Also in 2007, the US Customs and Border Protection and ICE returned or removed almost 1.2 million illegal aliens from the US and arrested over 3,300 gang members (CBP, 2011).

The Obama Administration (2009-2017)

The Obama Administration saw a decrease in illegal border crossing. This was mostly due to lack of jobs in US resulting from the housing market decline. During the first year of his term, Obama spent time reexamining current programs and prospective options for increased border security (Koslowski, 2011).

In 2010, President Obama signed the Southwest Border Security Act. This allocated $600 million in supplemental funds to support an additional 1,200 National Guard troops and unmanned aircraft drones (Koslowski, 2011). President Obama was given credit for most “border security deployed”. This is referring to fences or technological and infrastructure improvements. In 2011, the United States Border Patrol reached their highest number of border patrol agents with 21,444, and the border patrol budget increased significantly from $5.9 billion in 2003 to $11.9 billion in 2013 (Koslowski, 2011).

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This study measures the effectiveness by looking at statistics. The Obama Administration deported 2.5 million undocumented people during his eight year term. This was more than any other Administration. In 2013, there was an increase of over 27% more apprehensions at the southwest border (414,000) compared to 2011 (Koslowski, 2011).


The security of the border between the United States and Mexico has become a concern of national security due to the massive increase of cross-border flows of goods, people and money. Each US Presidential Administration has made great effort to secure this border and fight the new and evolving threats.

Overall, there have been many successful measures implemented by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administration. President Clinton’s Administration inherited a war on the trafficking of drugs and organized crime and combated that with the first large increase of border control agents. The Bush Administration was subject to one of the most historical terrorist attacks in US history and responded by creating the DHS and implemented an overwhelming increase to the border security budget. Bush also built 700 miles of the border’s fence. The Obama Administration saw a further increase of the border security budget, growth in immigration enforcement patrollers, and lengthened the border fence.

In order to fully understand how successful these measures were, this study analyzed statistics. More than 4 million deportations of noncitizens have occurred since 1990 (Meissner, 2013).  Due to increased border security, the cities along the border that were once plagued with criminal activity have become some of the safest in the United States. Looking at crime rates systematically shows that crimes associated with illegal immigration, like breaking and entering and car theft are down substantially (Meissner, 2013). This indicates that illegal immigration is down. Since 9/11, there have been no publicly known instances of a terrorist smuggling Weapons of Mass Destruction to commit a violent act of terrorism via the US-Mexico border (Customs and Border Protection, 2011). THE USBP made 18,074 drug seizures in 2011 and seized more than $8.4 billion worth of narcotics along the southwest border in 2014 (CBP Security Report, 2014).

Finally, illegal crossing from Mexico has fallen near the lowest level since the early 1970s and hiring a smugger to cross the border is now almost eight times more costly than it was in the 1990s. The data above shows that US Administrations have repeatedly implemented successful measures and have effectively increased border security.


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