Vice President Harris’s visit to El Paso last Friday marked her first official visit to the southwest border as the Biden Administration’s “border czar.” After a few hours of largely symbolic activity – she visited a migrant processing center, posed for photographs with Border Patrol agents and local officials, and made a speech – she and her entourage returned to Washington, DC, leaving the border and its problems a long way behind them. And having “checked the block” on visiting the border, that will probably be the end of her immediate interest in the border – at least on the US side – for a while.
Harris’s visit, as most likely expected it would be, was an act of political theater, long on symbolism and short on substance. True, she did visit El Paso, but El Paso is about eight hundred miles away from the real epicenter of uncontrolled migration in the Rio Grande Valley. She certainly did not come to Arizona where Governor Ducey, along with Governor Abbott of Texas has called for help from other state governors to staunch the flow of illegal immigration.
While she did call for addressing the “root causes” of flight from Mexico and Central American countries, she was also careful to point out that the administration’s immigration policies largely remain a work in progress. In summary, do not expect any real help anytime soon.
What Harris’s visit to El Paso really demonstrated was the real lack of a meaningful national strategy to provide security for U.S. citizens along a nearly 2,000- mile border with Mexico – a border plagued not only by high levels of illegal immigration but also industrial-scale trafficking in narcotics and human beings. No matter how well-intentioned this administration may be in trying to address the root cause of uncontrolled immigration from sending countries, that effort does not address the immediate threats to local and national security on the border.
To be fair, the Border Patrol does have a strategy that aims to achieve operational control (OPCON) of the U.S. border. The strategy defines OPCON as the “ability to impede or deny illegal border crossings, maintain situational awareness, and apply the appropriate, time-bound, law-enforcement response and resolution between the ports of entry.”
But the Border Patrol is only one part of a much larger Federal government. New Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz does recognize the need for a “whole of government” border strategy. In a recent interview, Ortiz made it clear that “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done [on the border], and that can’t just rest on the shoulders of the Department of Homeland Security. There’s other agencies that have a responsibility here” . The real question for Ortiz, and for the people who live along the border and their local political leaders, is how much help they can really expect to get?
The author is a retired U.S. Army officer and a retired civilian employee of the U.S. Department of Defense. He holds an MS in Strategic Intelligence from the Joint Military Intelligence College (now National Intelligence University), and an MA in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College. His published work has appeared in The Journal of Strategic Studies, Israel Affairs, Parameters, The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, and the International Bulletin of Political Psychology.
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