Many countries of the world have been faced with security threats for a long period. The United States of America has been a target of many terrorist groups both from within and without and effort has been made by the government to enhance homeland security. In particular, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011 in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Pennsylvania challenged the American Government to ensure the security of the citizens especially in densely populated centers as well as areas of high-risk potential (Chad, 2010). This is due to the fact that these areas are easy targets for terrorists. Among other measures, the U.S. Government strengthened the security along the country’s borders with an aim of preventing possible infiltration by the terrorists. The American Government has also remained committed to the eradication of all known organized crime globally by dedicating huge amount of resources towards the fight against terrorism (Steinmetz, 2011). However, this war has continued for about a decade with renewed terrorism attacks on the American people. The paper discusses the threat of a weak Mexican/U.S. border with emphasis on terrorist threats within the U.S. It also considers the possibility of Al Qaeda network using this border as an entry point to the U.S. and hence the need to strengthen the border for long term safety.
The Threat of a Weak Mexican/U.S. Border
The Mexican/U.S. border poses one of the major threats to the security of America owing to the likelihood of terrorists and organized criminals sneaking into the country. A weak Mexican/U.S. border, therefore, will serve as the entry point for the criminal gangs if stringent security measures are not taken. Border security coupled with illegal immigration has remained to be one of the most controversial issues under debate among most Americans. The border between Mexico and America has been the focus of many advocacy groups and news agencies since it accounts for a large proportion of immigrants into the U.S. (McCaul, 2009). The porosity has been exploited by terrorists, organized criminals as well as drug and human traffickers. This has posed one of the greatest threats to the United States citizens living along the border. American law enforcement agencies have also been put to task in ensuring maximum security. The international criminal networks intent on executing terrorist activities have benefited from the existing gangs within the U.S. due to the ease of exchanging information.
The greatest challenge facing America over the past few years is the ever-growing Islamic extremism. Statistics from the security agencies reveal that anti-American Islamic movements within America and its neighboring states have been on the increase (Chad, 2010). Thousands of suspected international terrorists operating on behalf of other criminal networks have been arrested in the United States. They are responsible for smuggling materials through the borders as well as relaying crucial information that may facilitate effective execution of terrorist attacks.
Aware of the security threat posed by a weak U.S./Mexico border, the American security agencies have put in place controls and policies that regulate the entry of millions of immigrants as well as facilitate the exchange of billions of dollars of legal business annually (Hernandez, 2010). These regulatory measures have always been reviewed and tightened particularly during moments of suspected terrorist and other criminal attacks. However, with all the vigilance at the border, there still exist illegal activities perpetrated by criminals who are always eager to exploit the porous borders of the United States (Steinmetz, 2011). The presence of the constant threat from these criminal groups at the U.S./Mexico has made life difficult for both the Mexican and American citizens and law enforcement agencies (Shirk, 2011). The Mexican/U.S. border is threatened by the long standing drug war which has opened up loopholes for the illegal entry of international terrorist networks that embark on recruiting followers, raise funds for their groups, and plan and execute deadly attacks.
Organized crime has become the single most contributing factor to the insecurity along America’s southwestern border. Highly organized groups of criminals have been operating along the Mexico/U.S. border for a relatively long time. Apart from being responsible for the raging drug war, they are associated with human trafficking, smuggling of arms, kidnapping, theft, and other terrorist activities (Steinmetz, 2011). Each of these crimes has well established networks working across the borders to ensure well coordinated execution of their plans of activities. Most of their engagements, especially drug cartels, use sophisticated military weaponry, latest technological innovations, as well as paramilitary tactics to counter the strong opposition from law enforcement agencies in both countries. Most of them have literally taken control of major entry points into and out of the United States. The ease with which government immigration officers in Mexico and America can be bribed and intimidated has for a long time contributed to the thriving of these criminal activities (Ganster & Lorey, 2008). The criminals, especially in Mexico spend hundreds of millions of dollars each month to ensure that police and other law enforcement officers do not interfere with their activities.
More than 2,000 people were killed by drug smugglers in Mexico in 2006. This period marked the beginning of the violent drug war when the Mexican military as well as the American federal police embarked on a mission to weaken the operations of the organized criminals (Shirk, 2011). They also set out to reduce drug-related deaths and address the rampant corruption among government officers. In reaction, the drug traffickers launched massive resistance, causing even more deaths over time as they sought to hold onto their territories. These groups had mutated into separate organizations but all fighting a common enemy, the governments. However, another war among the cartels was also being fought as each organization sought to control lucrative drug neighborhood. Since 2008, the number of drug-related homicides in Mexico has increased significantly (Chad, 2010).
Even with increased confrontation between security officers, the cartels have resorted to the use of highly sophisticated weaponry including advanced rifles, assorted grenades, and other explosive devices. This move has seen the killing of government agents who, in some cases, have inferior weapons. Although distributed across Mexico, violent drug war is more pronounced along the Mexican/U.S. border which has the largest count of casualties (Steinmetz, 2011). Similarly, drug-related violence has claimed many lives on the American side of the southwest border since 2006. The confrontation between the cartels and the government officials has seen the long-standing encounter posing constant security threats on both sides of the border.
The drug cartels use diverse methods to move across borders without being detected by the government security agencies like America’s Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) (Chad, 2010). They have adopted both simple and complex ways of transportation. The most frequently used are the tunnels connecting houses on the Mexican and U.S. side of the border (Shirk, 2011). Since the start of the violent drug war in 2006, more than 75 tunnels running underneath the border have been discovered by CBP personnel (Steinmetz, 2011). Additionally, the cartels have been known to use ultra-light aircraft to transport illegal drugs across the southern border into the U.S. Moreover, the smugglers have resorted to the use of advanced semi-submersible boats to transport large amounts of narcotics and always evading detection by security agents. Other methods employed by the cartels include the crossing of the desert using high-speed motorcycles, destroying and passing through the border fences, hiding drugs inside the body especially by swallowing, floating illegal narcotics across rivers at the border, as well as using millions of dollars to bribe customs officials in order to be allowed to infiltrate the otherwise guarded borders.
The Threat of Organized Crime
Over the years, government law enforcers have realized that the connection between drug cartels and human traffickers in Mexico and the gangs in America have grown significantly. On the one side, drug cartels ensure the passage of illegal goods from Mexico into the United States while, on the other hand, the gangs and organized criminals are responsible for the distribution of the drugs within America. Highly interconnected criminal networks like the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Mexican Mafia operate across the borders to ensure successful smuggling and distribution of the illicit goods (Steinmetz, 2011). Most gangs arrested by government officials across several states in America have been linked to these organized criminal groups.
A year before the start of the violent drug war, it was estimated that about 30,000 gangs operated within America (U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2010). These gangs are not entirely concerned with illicit drug deals but they are mutually related in terms of resources and criminal activities. The criminal networks have posed a great threat to citizens and law enforcement officials in both countries. The revenue collected from the distribution of illicit drugs is used to buy sophisticated weapons and to promote other criminal activities like human trafficking, kidnapping, and property crime. Furthermore, the fight for the control of lucrative territories has fueled turf wars among the criminal groups themselves (Ganster & Lorey, 2008). The confrontations have placed the lives of innocent citizens and law enforcers at greater risk.
The Threat of Terrorism
Apart from the security threat presented by organized crime along the U.S./Mexican border, the possibility of infiltration by terrorist networks poses another great threat to both countries. The U.S.’s CBP reports thousands of arrests of suspected terrorists annually who always attempt to illegally enter the United States (Steinmetz, 2011). The terrorists are usually smuggled into the neighboring states in Central and South America before penetrating illegally into the U.S through the southwest border. Furthermore, it has been established that Al-Qaeda-linked operatives and other Islamic extremist groups are to be found in Canada along America’s northern border. These extremists have been linked with past terrorist attempts planned by jihadists entering the U.S. through the Canadian border. The U.S. Government has categorized potential terrorist individuals as special interest aliens (SIAs) who are believed to come from special interest countries (SIC) (Chad, 2010). SICs are believed to either harbor or promote the perpetration of intercontinental terrorism by financing the operations of such networks.
There are no accurate statistics to estimate the degree of the threat posed by the terrorists within and along the American southern border with Mexico. However, security agencies have developed a method to evaluate the threat. It involves the use of Other than Mexicans (OTM) and SIAs caught along the border (U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2010). This approach, however, has been criticized as being inaccurate because it assumes that all SIAs are terrorists. Furthermore, people from countries not categorized as SIC could also belong to terrorist networks. It is also not easy to establish the number of SIAs who manage to evade being arrested as they illegally cross the border.
Security experts have established that terrorists are always on the look out for security loopholes and develop ways to exploit them for their own good. As a matter of fact, effective terrorist operations depend on the presence of security gaps (McCaul, 2009). Intercontinental terrorists have identified America’s southwest border as the best entry point due to its porosity. The presence of highly networked criminal organizations along the U.S./Mexico border are thriving grounds for all sorts of terrorist activities including not only the smuggling of illicit drugs and human beings but also sophisticated weapons, biological poisons, chemicals, and assorted explosives into American territories. It is this weak security at the southern border that has facilitated the entry of terrorists into the United States and this remains the single greatest potential that Al Qaeda networks could exploit for further attacks on American soil and its citizens (Steinmetz, 2011). Many other extremist Islamic groups are known to operate within and around American territories. They are associated with drug and human smuggling, money laundering, weaponry dealings, among other illegal activities which help them reap millions of dollars in revenue each year. The money is then used to finance international terrorism activities including the infamous September 11 attacks in 2001.
The State of America’s Border Security
There is need to strengthen the security at the borders if the U.S. citizens are to be assured of their long term safety. The challenge at the borders between America and its neighbors has been that of balancing the war against illegal activities by the criminal organizations and the legitimate business deals across the borders (Steinmetz, 2011). Any imbalance has been shown to have significant economic and security implications for the concerned countries. Since the deadly 9/11 attacks, the CBP and other government agencies have made a lot of effort to improve homeland security without interfering with productive activities. The personnel affiliated to the CBP has grown since the start of the drug war in 2006 to more than 20,000 agents making it the largest uniformed federal law enforcement body in the United States (McCaul, 2009).
Following the terrorist attacks targeting America and its citizens, the security agents laid out a strategy to combat terrorism (U.S. Customs and Border Protection, 2004). The most significant strategy for the officers is the need to interdict terrorists at the borders (Steinmetz, 2011). The first objective is the apprehension of suspected terrorists as they try to illegally enter the U.S. Secondly, law enforcers seek to deter the would-be criminals from penetrating the borders through stringent enforcement of the custom laws. The third objective is to detect, arrest, and deter drug, human, and arm smugglers. The other objectives are to fully control smart border technology and reduce incidences of crime along the borders.
Homeland security is one of the most important desires of American law enforcement agencies as well as the citizens within and outside the country. The security at the border has emerged as a critical component in ensuring general security by preventing the intrusion of terrorists. The paper has discussed the threat of a weak Mexican/U.S. border with emphasis on terrorist threats within the United States. It has also focused on the possibility of Al Qaeda network using this border as an entry point to the U.S. and hence the need to strengthen the border for long term safety. Although the security at America’s northern and southern borders have notably improved since the infamous 9/11 terrorist attack, there is need to tighten security along the U.S./Mexico border so as to avoid potential attacks from terrorist groups like the Al Qaeda which have singled out America as one of their most important targets.
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Ganster, P. & Lorey, D. E. (2008). U.S.-Mexican border into the twenty-first century (2nded.). Rowman & Littlefield
Hernandez, K. L. (2010). Migra!: a history of the U.S. border patrol. University of Carlifornia Press
McCaul, M. T. (2009). A Line in the Sand: Confronting the Threat at the Southwest Border. U.S. House of Representatives
Shirk, D. A. (2011). The Drug War in Mexico: Confronting a Shared Threat. Council on Foreign Relations
Steinmetz, T. (2011). Mitigating the Exploitation of U.S. Borders by Jihadists and Criminal Organizations. Journal of Strategic Security, 4(3): pp.29-48
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