Monday, July 21, 2014

Moving Towards Smarter Immigration and Border Control

Significant political debate swirls around the issue of illegal immigration within the United States. Despite the great divergence of opinion regarding immigration policy, one would believe that controlling border entry is an area of consensus. If nothing else, a porous border presents significant risks of importation of disease, criminality and terrorism. One aspect of the border and immigration problem that has been overlooked is the effective use of systematic information gathering and sharing to begin to discover the source, means and methods being used to exploit our borders. Simply stated, a tremendous amount of intelligence with immense value is being left on the table. Whether intentionally or unintentionally so, we are operating with blinders as we play cat and mouse games at the border.

In large measure, the influx of illegal immigrants into the United States is being facilitated by systemic processes fostered by transnational drug cartels and other organized criminal groups that seek to profit from human smuggling. Successful border exploitation is a result of decades of experience through trial and error associated with drug trafficking. In the evolution path to human smuggling, there is the early experience of the “mule”. These are illegal aliens encouraged to cross borders with contraband. Enterprising criminality quickly recognized that humans themselves are merely another form of contraband form which to profit. Human smuggling is simply a natural outgrowth of a matured and operationalized illegal drug trafficking phenomena.

In this regard, Illegal immigration bears the hallmarks of a large scale, organized criminal enterprise with hierarchal command, divisions of labor and functions, specialization, communication and transportation systems and money laundering infrastructure. The picture of a poor immigrant family picking up roots on their own and making their way to a new way of life is outdated. Illegal immigration is big business. Criminal syndicates operate across borders through untold numbers of “street soldiers” recruited through gangs operating in the United States and abroad. Beneath the surface, a highly adaptive and effective system exists consisting of recruiters, safe houses, look-outs and counter intelligence, document forgers, identity thieves, chop shops and auto-body repairers, transporters, enforcers, money facilitators, and guides. Drug trafficking, human smuggling and gun smuggling all share the same ecosystem of illicit activities. When we fail to gather information that helps to define the nature and extent of this far reaching system and how it operates, we limit our understanding and deprive ourselves of the ability to effectively combat and defeat these activities.

In many ways, we are currently hindering our ability to discover essential information. Currently, efforts to police illegal immigration are effectively segregated from other law enforcement activities that focus on criminal activities. This is further compounded by numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies have different jurisdictional and enforcement mandates rendering day to day cooperation and information sharing among agencies challenging. Local law enforcement is the most effective day to day information gathering agency because it is embedded in the local community and has a more intimidate understanding of what is happening on the street. Yet, as a matter of federal policy, local law enforcement is unable to enforce illegal immigration laws and detain illegal aliens. The best local law enforcement can do is refer the matter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement which, in turn, is overwhelmed and allows individuals to remain free on their own recognizance except in the most egregious cases. Being by nature transient and wishing to evade enforcement, most illegal aliens never report back and melt into the landscape. On the other side of the coin, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has no idea where most illegal immigrants are located at any point in time and the data that is available is often stale or erroneous.

Despite these problems, illegal aliens have been given access to public educational and health and welfare programs without any form of verification as to their stay status, and in many cases stolen social security numbers and other false documentation is presented. Public welfare institutions and healthcare facilities are blocked from verifying identity or reporting the presence of illegal aliens to law enforcement. So, at all levels, the ability to gather information about the whereabouts of illegal immigrants, is either nonexistent or exists in silos.

Therefore, one of the first steps to beginning to solve illegal immigration problem is knowing the nature and extent of the problem, and beginning to unravel the means, methods, persons and organizations behind this phenomena. This can occur with a combined effort among federal, state and local agencies to actively track and record the presence of illegal aliens. Law enforcement, schools, hospitals, and public benefits programs must be enlisted to report the identity and presence of illegal immigrants. Further, the use of social security numbers should be required to be reported to a national database to begin to ferret out identify fraud. Assuming there will be policy towards allowing illegal immigrants to stay under a documented worker program, there should be a requirement that illegal immigrants provide key information that can assist authorities in developing a better understanding of the system they are fighting. This information would include where illegal immigrants came from, how they were recruited, who recruited them, who helped them and how they made their trip, where did they stop, etc. Just like an employment application, truthfulness and accuracy should be required as a condition to stay and any inaccuracy should be grounds for deportation.

Over time, a reservoir of data and associated trends and correlations will begin to emerge. Americans have an uncanny ability to tackle complex problems when they put their minds to it. Being able to track, quantify and analyze illegal immigration should be something that stands above immigration policy. Information collection will empower policy makers and those with the responsibility of enforcement. When we begin to recognize that the border does not stop at the border, and illegal immigration effects every community, we will recognize that border protection is an internal matter that is best addressed by all communities working together, and it starts with gathering and sharing information.