"One must put up barriers to keep oneself intact" (Rush, rock group)

    Geophysical control of a boundary is only one of three interrelated problems in border security.  The other two are: immigration (the internal enforcement of laws); and migration (the transnational movement of people).  While there are numerous ways to think about border security, borders are, indeed, often thought of as solely consisting of geographic boundaries set up by political entities or legal jurisdictions. Airports and seaports are good examples of such geophysical boundaries, or Points-of-Entry (POE as they're called).  However, other kinds of borders are not clearly demarcated; some contain "buffer" or "neutral" zones; and others exist only in terms of the cognitive maps inside the minds of people.  It's a good bet, however, that when you run into a control checkpoint, you have run into a border.  Every country has some form of border control to limit the movement of people, animals, plants, and goods in and out of their country, and under international law, every country is permitted to define the conditions under which persons or things may legally cross its borders.  Usually, in order to cross a border, some kind of identity documentation is necessary (e.g., a passport, visa, other papers).  In order to cross a border to work or stay, some kind of additional permit or special documentation is necessary.  In order to move animals or plants across a border, some kind of quarantine or veterinarian paperwork is usually necessary.  In order to move precious metals across a border, some kind of provenance (origin) paperwork is usually required, and there are monetary limits.  In order to move goods across a border, some kind of payment (e.g., excise tax) is necessary (often collected on the spot by customs officials).

    Most borders tend to accumulate all sorts of legal and illegal enterprise activities near them.  Some operate as trade free or free enterprise zones (which minimizes the crime control burden).  Some are nothing more than breeding grounds for massive illegal enterprises or black market operations.  Border enforcement represents a quintessential CRIMINAL JUSTICE and HOMELAND SECURITY problem, and lots of people (e.g., Fernandes 2007) have suggested a business model might be better than a law enforcement model for running them.  Others argue that we should do away with borders all together.  For example, globalization advocates hope for a borderless world one day, given all the troubling realities with a border-ridden world.

    Some of the world's longest borders exist with the United States.  The U.S. has approximately 5,000 miles of border with Canada, a little over 2,000 miles of border with Mexico, and some 95,000 miles of shoreline.  Every year, about 500 million people cross these borders, and over two-thirds of them are non-U.S. citizens.  Some countries have more "porous borders" than the U.S., but the U.S. borders are some of the most porous in the world.  One of the world's most porous borders is between U.S. and Mexico.  Authorities are regularly detecting tunnels used to smuggle contraband and people from Mexico to the United States.  There is about one border agent for every five miles of Mexican border, and the site has much advanced tactical infrastructure, such as the Secure Border Initiative known as SBINet which existed from 2006 to 2010.  For each person who crosses legally, officials only have about 12 seconds to determine their legitimate identity, whether they should be admitted, under what conditions, and for how long.  The word "legally" is NOT used here in any politically loaded sense of "illegal" or "illicit" even though many of the 20 million or so Mexican migrants are often referred to as "illegals;" i.e., those who arrive without inspection (estimated at 60% of the total migrant population) or "overstay" their visa to the U.S. (estimated at 40% of migrant population).  Such numbers reflect the futility of trying to suggest any legal ramifications to an issue of legitimacy.  In the field of transnational crime studies (Friman 2009), it is fairly axiomatic that the terms "illegal" and "illegal" usually refer to what a state designates as legitimate or illegitimate, while the terms "licit" versus "illicit" refer to what those involved in an activity see as legitimate.  There is a critical difference between what is designated as legitimate (law) and what is perceived as legitimate (legitimacy).  

    There are problems with normal entry just as there are problems with unusual entryNumbersUSA has a good listing of the many "loopholes" with lawful entry, and they include, just to name a few of the exceptions:  family members; executives and professors; humanitarian considerations; fashion models, athletes, and entertainers; religious workers; ambassadors and diplomats; and students or researchers.  The usual pattern here is to overstay one's temporary visa in hopes of gaining permanent status by filing for an allocated slot in one of the aforementioned exception categories.  Many experts have argued the problems are not insurmountable despite the vast numbers of people and miles involved (see table below).  For example, Hayworth (2006) says it's possible to avoid adverse impacts on tourism, trade, and normal immigration by "securing the borders." Others say border security is not possible at all, that only image management is possible (Andreas 2000), and Victor Davis Hanson (2003) says that America essentially has four choices: (1) to continue with open borders and insist on assimilation; (2) reduce immigration and hope that assimilation takes care of itself; (3) -- Hanson's choice -- reduce immigration and pursue "patriotic assimilation," and (4) pay no attention to either problem and allow certain parts of the U.S. to become "apartheid states."  The demographic problem is, of course, more than a matter of assimilation, but the number of miles problem is rather clear-cut.    

Length of U.S. Borders (in miles)
Alaska coast 6,640 Atlantic coast 2,069
Hawaii coast 750 Great Lakes 970
Pacific coast excluding
Alaska and Hawaii
1,293 Alaska-Canada border 1,538
Border with Mexico 1,933 Border with Canada excluding Alaska and Great Lakes 3,017
Gulf of Mexico coast 1,631 Total 19,841

    In addition to the issue of securing actual borders, U.S. law since the 1976 case of U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte has allowed the establishment of permanent or fixed checkpoints on public highways leading to and away from the borders.  Such roadblock checkpoints are allowed within 100 miles of the nation's borders in order to check for illegal immigrants and smuggling, and the Court has ruled that if the stops are brief, limited to that purpose, and not fishing expeditions, the minimal invasion to personal privacy is outweighed by the government's interest in protecting the border.  Such checkpoints do NOT trigger Fourth Amendment protections because warrants are not required and stops can be made even based on the appearance of foreign ancestry.  For these reasons, many privacy advocates favor the overturning of USmartinez, the ACLU being one of them, who graphically illustrate their case in their map (below) that much of the U.S. is covered in this "100-mile border zone."

    Border security in the United States has traditionally involved the twin problems of immigration control and visa control.  Of these two, immigration control is the older and more perplexing problem, long manifested in an absconder problem such as a backlog of "fugitive alien" cases -- those who have failed to leave the country after being ordered out.  The so-called "catch and release" policy of the U.S. toward Mexicans is an example of this where they are put back out on the street with immigration bonds, detained for further processing under an "Other Than Mexican" (OTM) status, or laterally repatriated to a different border location in hopes of preventing the not-infrequent re-crossing phenomenon.  Re-crossing at the same location has been a frequent habit of alien drug smugglers, as the case of the Border Patrol 2 illustrates (see Andrew McCarthy's article, The BP2 Deserve Jail).  The problematic "catch-and-release" sanctuary policy is addressed, in part, by Section 287(g) of a 1996 law called the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA).  Section 287(g) authorizes state and local law enforcement agents to be deputized as federal immigration law enforcement officers, provided they have received proper training.  Section 287(g) and a subsequent proposed legislation debated since 2007 called the CLEAR Act (Clear Law Enforcement for Criminal Alien Removal) promise to move state and local law enforcement more into the arena of interior immigration enforcement.      

    Visa control is typically concerned with letting people in, and generally is a hodgepodge of regulations, lotteries, permits, and waivers, including a TMOV (Transit Without Visa) loophole which has recently been fixed.  So-called "guest worker permits" are an example of visa control, as would be any "amnesty" provisions in the guise of guest worker programs (see Wikipedia Entry on US Immigration Debate).  It is generally accepted in the scholarly literature that guest worker and amnesty programs are bad ideas, leading to even more immigration problems (Andreas 2000), and it is an historical fact that America has had six prior reprieves of various sorts since the notorious blanket amnesty of 1986.  Mexicans are mentioned several times in the examples used here because, basically, Mexicans dominate the influx of emigrants to the U.S.

Why the Mexican Influx is Significantly Different

   No other group, in sheer numbers from a single non-English speaking region, has ever made up such a large immigration wave before. As Huntington (2005) points out, Mexican immigration differs from past immigration due to a combination of factors including: proximity, scale, regional concentration, and historical presence. Mexicans cross into the U.S. in unprecedented numbers and mainly settle in border states. Roughly 33% of California and Texas are already Hispanic. Many Mexicans view their settlement within the U.S. as regaining old territorial claims, and practice "reverse assimilation" which involves resistance toward learning the English language as well as demands for bilingual services, access, and power. Mexicans in the U.S. generally obtain half the levels of college education and home ownership that African-Americans do. By 2050, Hispanics are projected to come close to being the majority of the U.S. population, mainly because Mexican immigrants have the highest birth rates of people from any migrant country most years.  Mexico is also the major transshipment point for drugs into the U.S. and current thinking is that for each ton of illicit drugs confiscated on the water before it hits land alleviates some of the pressure on the border areas, thereby curtailing some of the border violence. After all, if there are fewer drugs to smuggle across the border, there are fewer fights over traffic lanes and other criminal issues related to the drug trade.

    In addition to the Mexican influx, a valid homeland security concern is Muslim immigration, which has pretty much already decimated France, according to Victor Davis Hanson in his Claremont Institute article entitled France's Immigration Problem and Our's.  It is feared that many Muslims come from utterly indoctrinated countries where anti-Americanism is standard fare, and there is some evidence to suggest that at least some Muslim immigration has the purpose of "Islamicizing" America for all intents and purposes.  At least that's the conclusion of a CIS Conference on Muslim Immigration where several experts agreed on this issue.  In addition, Steven Camarota, who is director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies wrote an essay entitled, The Muslim Wave: Dealing with Immigration from the Middle East, where his remarks can be paraphrased as follows:

The Homeland Security Implications of Muslim Immigration

     Roughly 10% of the approximately 2 million Muslims in the U.S. are "illegal aliens" who may pose a homeland security risk. Some Muslim-Americans appear busy converting American Blacks to Islam, to the tune of about 250,000 converts a year. Other Muslim immigrants appear successful at gaining political clout. For example, in the State of Michigan, they got legislators there to vote for declaring Israel a terrorist state. Muslim immigrants are some of the most highly educated immigrants to America, with almost half having a bachelor's degree. Several Muslim immigrants are political activists or radicals, and opinion polls show that a large majority are dissatisfied with U.S. policy toward the Middle East and that a significant majority believe their religion prohibits giving political allegiance to a secular government such as ours. On the other hand, there are some Muslims who do become loyal Americans and serve with distinction in the U.S. military. Suspicion of Muslim immigration (and suspected terrorism links) has been so acute as to cause serious thought be given toward putting a hold on Muslim immigration.          

    In addition to the Mexican and Muslim problems, there is the dilemma over what to do about all those highly-skilled, highly-educated foreigners who want jobs in the United States.  These are generally referred to as H-1B workers (hi-tech workers), and it is absolutely essential that the U.S. economy benefit from their services.  Why? Let's face it -- America is NOT producing enough of its own scientists and mathematicians.  Doesn't matter why, but American college students tend to study the "easy" or "soft" stuff in order to get credentials that they hope will convert into a higher salary at some mediocre job.  Foreign students tend to do things like master calculus by the time they are in eighth grade and can disassemble/reassemble a nuclear reactor or write some new computer program in under a day.  Look around in the Ph.D. departments of any major American university and you'll quickly discern that it seems the world's smartest people are all foreigners.  It's been that way for decades, and such people are the true "movers and shakers" of the world, increasingly valuable as highly-skilled workers for any business or organization that wants to grow and innovate.  The following text box provides some focus:

The Highly-Skilled, Highly-Educated (H-1B) Dilemma

     H-1Bs are temporary employer-sponsored work visas for highly skilled workers in specialty occupations. They run for three years, are renewable once, and are capped at 65,000 with 20,000 additional spots available for foreigners who earned advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. The quota cap is reached almost immediately every year when the application season opens every April, and because there are more applications than allotments the U.S. government puts on a lottery drawing to select the "lucky few."  The system is heavily regulated. Every employer who wishes to hire foreign workers must file a Labor Condition Application with the Department of Labor, get an employer ID assigned, and pay a $2500 fee ($4475 for expedited approval).  The (foreign) worker must also pay fees, the worst ones being the typical immigration lawyer fee of $2000. Delays are common. Firms in rapidly changing technology fields often lose out, and required workplace inspections (after hiring) waste a lot of resources. The biggest frustration skilled, highly-educated workers face are the so-called "amnesty" programs that American politicians roll out every five years or so because these programs put unskilled, lowly-educated people ahead of them on "paths to citizenship."

    America is essentially a nation of immigrants, and for years, has held out its banner of freedom for those seeking liberty in a new homeland.  Yet, the Constitution was never designed for, nor does it automatically grant, the right for foreigners to migrate and enter this country in wholesale fashion.  The history of international travel and development of the idea of the passport is an interesting one, but too long to discuss here (see Torpey 1999).  Of greater interest are the globalization-related observations about the politics of movement that some make (e.g., Bauman 1998; Young 1999).  Along these lines, some kind of hierarchy of freedom of movement exists in the world, with rich people able to travel freely and poor people unable to.  America has a history and proud tradition of welcoming more than its share of poor immigrants, but it is also a country that has every right to be concerned with border security given multiple conceptions of threats, including the terrorism threat, which involve the borders.  Protecting borders from terrorism is the job of a new homeland security agency called CBP: Customs & Border Protection which has over 41,000 employees, with these large numbers coming from a merger of the U.S. Customs with the Border Patrol.  At the ports, CBP employees enforce import/export laws, immigration laws, and perform agriculture inspections.  CBP also patrols traffic checkpoints along highways leading from border areas, and can conduct investigations anywhere else in the nation.

Designated Ports of Entry into the United States (317 total)

Alcan Port of Entry JFK International Airport (NY)
Amistad Dam Ketchikan Port of Entry
Anchorage International Airport Kona Air and Sea ports
Hartsfield International Airport (Atlanta) Laredo Gateway to the Americas
Baltimore International Airport Las Vegas (McCarran) Airport
Bell Harbor Pier 66 Cruise Ship Terminal Lewiston Bridge, NY
Bridge of the Americas Logan International Airport
Brownsville/Matamoras Bridge Long Beach Seaport
Buffalo (NY) Peace Bridge  Los Angeles International Airport
Calais Port of Entry Madawaska Port of Entry
Calexico Port of Entry Massena (Seaway Bridge) 
Cape Canaveral Seaport
Cape Vincent Port of Entry Miami International Airport
Champlain, New York Miami Marine Unit
Charlotte/Douglas International Airport Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport
Chateauguay Port of Entry Mooers Port of Entry
Chicago – Midway Airport
Chicago - O’Hare International Airport Newark Liberty International Airport
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport Nogales 
Columbus Port of Entry Ogdensburg Prescott Bridge
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport Orlando International Airport
Del Rio Bridge Oroville Port of Entry
Denver International Airport Otay Mesa Port of Entry
Derby Line Port of Entry Pacific Highway Port of Entry
Detroit Canada Bridge  Pembina Port of Entry
Detroit Canada Tunnel  Philadelphia International Airport
Detroit Metro International Airport Phoenix - Sky Harbor Airport
Douglas Port of Entry Piegan Port of Entry
Dulles International Airport Pittsburgh International Airport
Eagle Pass Bridge Point Roberts, WA
Eastport, Idaho Port Arthur Seaport
Fort Covington Port of Entry Port Everglades Seaport
Fort Duncan Bridge, Eagle Pass, TX Port Huron 
Galveston Seaport Portal Point of Entry
George Bush Intercontinental Airport Portland International Airport 
Grand Portage, MN Progresso International Bridge
Guam International Airport Rainbow Bridge (Niagara Falls)
Heart Island  Raymond Port of Entry
Hidalgo International Bridge Roosville Port of Entry
Highgate Springs Port of Entry Rouses Point Port of Entry
Honolulu International Airport Rouses Point Amtrak Train
Honolulu Seaport San Antonio International Airport
Houston Port of Entry San Diego International Airport 
Houston Seaport San Diego Seaport
International Falls  San Francisco International Airport

    Modern U.S. border security consists of more than enhancing enforcement (asking more questions), enhancing inspections (searches), and enhancing management (putting special agents in charge as each port director).  CBP's priority mission is intelligence-driven homeland security, specifically to detect and prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States.  However, they've been caught up more extensively in the drug war.  CBP looks upon the interdiction of drugs as complementary to the interdiction of terrorism, and they seize around 6,300 pounds of drugs per day.  An advance intelligence system called ATS (Automated Targeting System) raises red flags on vehicles and ships before they even reach the border, and then sophisticated X-ray devices can detect anomalies on anything else, or at least a sampling of everything else.  Although CBP shares intelligence with DEA, DOJ, and many other agencies, most of its seizures are the results of "cold hits," which are the result of efforts by CBP alone.       


    ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is a DHS agency charged with controlling alien smuggling and the criminal alien problem.  ICE is who trains state and local law enforcement for interior immigration control duties under Section 287(g).  No one knows the true extent of the criminal alien problem, but the fact of the matter is they can be in the U.S. legally or illegally, and their crimes vary from shoplifting to gang rape/mass murder.  It may be helpful to review some basic information on immigration status.  Immigrants, as defined by the U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service, which is now part of the Department of Homeland Security called , are persons lawfully admitted for permanent residence. They arrive with permanent visas that have been applied for and issued abroad, or they adjust their status from temporary visitor to permanent resident. A visa is an official U.S. State Dept. document stamped or stapled on a page of a passport, and is obtained from any American consulate overseas or arranged via American officials or firms. Visas are either for permanent status (immigrant visas) or temporary status (nonimmigrant visas).  A list of definitions appears below:

    American immigration law operates under a quota system that gives preferential treatment to persons with family in the U.S., persons with needed job skills, and persons who qualify as refugees.  Thousands of refugees settle in the United States every year, and have a variety of organizations, such as the Cultural Orientation Project to help them.  The U.S. has an annual cap of about 675,000 immigrants, which consists of 480,000 slots being family-sponsored, 140,000 employment-related, and 55,000 in a category called Diversity (which afford an extra 3000 or so visas to low-immigration countries). The cap is always exceeded every year, however, and the actual number of approvals for permanent residence runs around 925,000. There are many reasons for exceeding the cap: it was designed as a flexible cap in the first place; refugees and asylees are exempt (asylum is the biggest loophole); parolees from the Soviet Union and China are exempt; adoption of foreign orphans is exempt, immediate family relatives (sons & daughters) are exempt; and visa quotas unused from previous years are carried over into current years (visas must be used within four months of issuance). The Dept. of State calculates quota allotments by country and the Dept. of Justice inspects, naturalizes, and apprehends or removes undocumented persons. Of the 915,000 legal immigrants in 1997 (a typical year), the following are the countries of origin, and a profile of the typical immigrant would be as follows: 29 years old, female (55%), married (51%), and having an occupation (45% of the time, in nursing and social work).

Typical Migrant Countries

1. Mexico 2. Philippines 3. India 4. Vietnam 5. China 6. Dominican Republic 7. Cuba 8. Ukraine 9. Russia 10. Jamaica 11. Haiti 12. Korea 13. El Salvador 14. Canada 15. Poland 16. Colombia 17. United Kingdom 18. Taiwan 19. Peru 20. Pakistan

    The Department of Homeland Security's main control over immigration is the CLASS (Consular Lookout and Support) system.  It provides consular officers anywhere in the world access to the best information on people not wanted in the U.S.  It uses the most advanced foreign language algorithms to ensure that transliteration and common names are not overlooked, and it prevents any visa from being printed until the name-check system—including any required interagency consultations—has been cleared.  It essentially involves integrated watch list databases, however, there are a number of other databases, such as IBIS (Interagency Border Inspection System) which link up with law enforcement databases such as NCIC.  As a general rule, everyone is subject to CLASS and IBIS security checks.  However, there are some situations that trigger a more intensive background check.  For example, there is the 26 country rule, which is an unofficial list of nations for which lengthier security checks are done.

26 Country Security Scrutiny List

Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen

    In addition, there is the 7 country rule, which consists of those nations deemed to be state sponsors of terrorism.  This list consists of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea and Cuba.  The problem here has not been with direct entry to the United States, but with INDIRECT ENTRY.  People from such designated nations know they haven't got much of a chance getting into the U.S. directly, so they travel to Canada or Mexico, and then enter the U.S. from one of those borders with a special 30-day I-94 travel visa, which is a discretionary thing (read automatic) given at the border crossings.  The Department of Homeland Security's main control over the movements, or comings-and-goings, of people from countries on scrutiny lists is called Special Registration, or NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System).  NSEERS requires frequent visits to Port of Entry offices in order to conduct interviews.

    So where do the world's 10.5 million refugees go?  It turns out that Canada, Scandinavia, and some Muslim countries provide most asylum.  Pakistan is host to the largest number of refugees worldwide (1.8 million), followed by the Syrian Arab Republic (1.1 million) and the Islamic Republic of Iran (980,000).  Canada, Sweden, and Norway absorb the most number of refugees per 1,000 inhabitants (map below).  Surprisingly, the U.S. is rather low.  The Scandinavian countries operate with a central plan which seeks to achieve an optimal level where immigrants aren't so few that they're completely isolated but not so numerous that they retreat to native language-speaking ethnic neighborhoods.  They call finding this optimal level a "just right" policy, which in recent years has run as high as 19% foreign-born.  However, since 2008, Scandinavia has begun to rethink its policy of generous immigration combined with realistic integration.  As Huntington (2005) put it, the real problem isn't immigration; it's assimilation.      


    Citizens, nationals, and aliens are allowed to apply for another type of visa status: temporary visitor or authorized "documented" worker. There are no quota systems by country for temporary visas. "Documented alien" is the phrase for the well-known identification procedures used by all employers to process I-9 verification -- one form of identification from column A, two forms of identification from column B, and work authorization forms from column C (a Social Security card not stamped "not valid for employment", ICE employment authorization document, ICE citizen identification card, ICE reentry permit, or refugee travel document). An alien need not have a green card to be authorized to work. The visa or an ICE document are all that's required to be an authorized worker. A grandfather clause exempts some people from this process, specifically employees who have worked for an employer since before 1986.

    There are different types of worker visas. In general, a temporary resident card is valid for 31 months, and the date of temporary residence begins on the date of the fee receipt, not the date the INS approves the form (see INS forms & fees), which may be many months later. Temporary residents may only apply for permanent residence during the last 12 months of their 31-month visa, and the benefit here is that such application is the only thing allowing travel in and out of the U.S. for temporary residents. There are two types of agricultural worker visas: Special Agricultural Workers (SAWs) and Replenishment Agricultural Workers (RAWs). SAW applicants are typically hired for 90-day periods during the summer months (migrant laborers), and if they are undocumented aliens who want to legalize their status, they can apply for a kind of amnesty program which allows them to leave agricultural work. RAW applicants, if undocumented and wanting to legalize, are bound to agricultural work for 3 years after approval.

    Student visas are another type of temporary residence. There are approximately 450,000 foreign students in the U.S. and the visa applicable to most foreign students is known as an F-1 visa. American schools that accept such students must be approved and issued a special acceptance form. The foreign student applicant must then prove that they will pursue full-time study, have adequate financial support, are proficient in English (or will receive sufficient training), and intend to leave the U.S. upon completion of their studies (although extensions of stay can be granted for up to eight years, inclusive of the years of study). Special permission must be obtained if the foreign student plans to work, and there are separate procedures for part-time work and for full-time work. M-1 student visas are designed mostly for study and work, but the program of study must be vocational or technically oriented, and the work must be related to the program of study. M-1 visas are for a limited time, however, and there are few extensions. Another type of visa, the J-1, is sometimes designed as part of student or scholar exchange programs, and allow application for permanent residence after two years of study. Spouses and children of foreign students are allowed to accompany them to the U.S. and even to be employed, but their income is not supposed to be used to support the foreign student.

    Foreign students used to be able to transfer schools without approval, and change their major or course of studies, but these moves tend to be looked upon by authorities as ways to extend the student's stay in the U.S.  If the student fails a class, gets on academic probation or suspension, or drops down to part-time study, there is more extensive scrutiny, and the FBI may even investigate the student, as they might do if the student participates in demonstrations or other extracurricular activities. Generally, student visa control is accomplished by the Department of Homeland Security's SEVIS system.  This system requires, among other things, for school registrars to report foreign students who don't enroll or attend classes.  Foreign students, starting in 2004, have to pay a one-time processing fee of $100 which helps finance SEVIS.

Close-up of SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System)

     Four 9/11 terrorists entered the U.S. on student visas, and on January 1, 2003, SEVIS took effect, attempting to prevent that from ever happening again. The system allows DHS and State Dept. officials to monitor and track foreign students and their dependents, and also allows consular officials to electronically check whether someone requesting a student visa has actually been accepted at some school. SEVIS further requires schools to report to the government that a student failed to show up for class or that a student has dropped out. Some one million non-immigrant students, exchange visitors, and their dependents are recorded in SEVIS, and every week, the system produces about 1,000 alerts, which results annually in about 27,000 "potential violators," 1,200 investigations launched, and about 200 arrests (Wucker 2006).

    There are other types of temporary visas, including tourist visas, business visas (H-1s), exchange visitor visas, fiancée visas, visas allowing somebody to "look around" for work, study, research, or religion, and even lottery visas.  The most controversial item in recent years has been the H-2B visa program, which has only been in existence since 1985, and was designed to fill temporary jobs, often in the hospitality or construction industries, for which U.S. citizens were not available (some segments of the U.S. citizenry complaining that "their" jobs are being taken away).  Temporary employment is defined as "a one-time occurrence, a seasonal need, a peak-load need, or an intermittent need," and three different agencies (Labor, CIS, and State) oversee the H-2B program: Labor issuing temporary certifications and monitoring compliance with employment laws; Citizenship and Immigration Services adjudicating H-2B petitions; and State, if the petitions are approved, with State issuing visas to workers at consulates overseas.  Even with all this oversight, it is hard to remove graft and corruption from the H-2B visa program, which suffers from the plight of employers and recruiters often demanding payment in exchange for jobs.  The following is a complete list of all visa categories:

Categories of Visas

A - Foreign Government Officials, Family & Domestics
B1 - Visitor for Business
B2 - Visitor for Pleasure
C1 - Transit through the U.S
C2 - Transit to the U.N.
C3 - Transit Foreign Govt. Officials and Family
C4 - Transit Without Visa
D - Crewmember
E1 - Treaty Trader and Family
E2 - Treaty Investor and Family
F - Academic Student and Family
F3 - Canadian Border Commuter Students
G1 - Principal Representative and Family of Recognized Orgs.
G2 - Other Representative and Family of Recognized Orgs.
G3 - Representative and Family of Unrecognized Orgs.
G4 - Intl. Org. Employee and Family
G5 - Employee (Retinue) of G1
H1A - Registered Nurse
H1B - Specialty Occupations, e.g. High-Tech.
H1C - Nurse in Underserved Areas
H2A - Agricultural Worker
H2B - Skilled and Unskilled Worker
H3 - Industrial Trainee
H4 - Spouse or child of H1
I - Media Representative and Family
J - Exchange Visitor and Family
K1 Fiance(e) of U.S. Citizen and Family
K3 - Fiance(e) LIFE Act and Family
L - Intra-company transfers and Family
M - Vocational students and Family
M3 - Mexican Border Commuter Students
N1-7 - NATO officials and families
O - Workers of extraordinary ability/achievement and Family
P1 - World class athletes or performers
P2 - Artists or entertainers in exchange programs
P3 - Artists or entertainers in culturally unique programs
P4 - Spouses and children of P1, P2, or P3 workers
Q1 - Workers in international cultural exchange programs
R - Temporary religious workers and Family
S - Informers re criminal or terrorist activities
T - Victims of trafficking in persons
TN NAFTA professional workers and Family
U - Witnesses in criminal prosecutions
V - Persons awaiting immigrant petition approval

    One of the problems inhibiting the ability of industrialized, democratic countries from being able to take more immigrants is the fact that the native populations of these countries are aging and retiring, forcing up welfare, Social Security, and Medicare expenses.  There is great deal of animosity toward "illegal aliens" who receive taxpayer assistance. Food stamps are the most common form of assistance to illegal aliens, and there is indeed some fraud in the system that the USDA is supposed to prevent.  For example, it's fairly easy to purchase food stamp eligible items (like soda cans/bottles or 5 gallon bottles of water), walk out the store, pour the liquid out, return the bottles for deposit, and then use the cash to buy beer or liquor.  Since illegal immigrants have not been screened by any authorities and have not had their "bona fides" established in terms of employment, they can seriously influence the economic dependency ratio or the ratio of productive workers to retirees if they are able to access the social services of an advanced, democratic nation. In addition, there is the problem of an "informal, underground" economy. This area is watched closely by our nation's economists, and it is closely connected to such things as our inflation rate, fiscal and monetary controls, our standard of living index, and our quality of life. Since many illegal aliens work cheaply and are often paid off the books, they contribute to this underground economy.

    Aside from the economic problems, there is always a cultural/rhetorical war going on over the definition of what an "illegal alien" is.  Certainly, dealing with xenophobia is important to any society, but as best as I can tell, activists who favor a softer, kinder, gentler definition of "illegal" tend to rely on historical revisionism or some interpretation of events in a nation's past involving not-so-clean hands.  For instance, those are those who make the argument that "The Pilgrims were illegal immigrants."  While this is clever argument, the fact is that when the pilgrims were colonizing, North America was inhabited by disparate neolithic tribes who had no clearly defined borders, no established government (sovereignty), and no laws or procedures on the handling of strangers who "invade" their land.  By definition, it’s impossible for an individual to be deemed an illegal alien unless said individual has entered a sovereign nation which has an established government, recognized borders, and procedures for crossing borders, 

    Estimating the number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. is not an easy task. The best estimates peg the existing number at 7 million (about 3% of the population), with an estimated annual inflow of about 350,000. Of this annual flow, about 125,000 (41%) are visa "overstayers".  Here's a table showing some 1996 figures of illegal immigrants by country of origin:

Illegal Immigration Source Countries

Mexico 1,321,000
El Salvador 327,000
Guatemala 129,000
Canada 97,000
Poland 91,000

    What happens to the illegal immigrants who enter every year? Most of them live in California (75%). New York is next with 10%. Another 10% or so reside in our state prison system, and the rest are scattered among 8-9 states primarily, including Texas, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Arizona, Massachusetts, Virginia, Washington, and Maryland. The state of Texas has the largest population of settled illegal immigrants, but it has not been the place for new illegal entries in recent years due to Border Patrol activities.

    There's a whole black market for smuggling illegal immigrants that is operated by organized crime. Little documentation is available, but some Asian gangs, for example, charge $15,000 to be smuggled into the U.S. with $1,500 in advance and the rest to be paid upon arriving or worked off later. Although there are freelance operators, organized crime is also closely associated with the problem of manufacturing false identifications and credentials.  Smuggling and trafficking are technically different in that with smuggling, a victim voluntarily knows what they are getting into.  Trafficking (as with human trafficking, a much more serious crime, and involves tricking or luring someone into something that is false.

    Any police department apprehending an illegal immigrant usually reports it to federal authorities. In some places, there also exist "bounties" or monthly per capita fees for detaining suspects, about $60 per day. In some cases, there are reasons why the police department would not report anything to federal authorities: because they want the suspect's cooperation in an ongoing investigation, to testify at trial, or the local community's support. It is unknown how many illegals are under local police protection. Community policing, in particular, tends to include promises that there will be no sweeps or raids for illegal immigrants in the local area, as ethnic communities hate these things as well as too close of a local police relationship with the INS.

    At the same time, overcrowded state prison systems have repeatedly asked help from the federal government to alleviate the burden of housing convicted illegal aliens. In some cases, the federal government has provided financial assistance or subsidies, but in other cases, it's looked upon as a state problem. Neither the Border Patrol nor the Bureau of Prisons have the capacity to hold all who are apprehended. Some Los Angeles County jails predominantly consist of detainees who are illegal aliens, and Texas has a special prison unit at Huntsville for illegal aliens.  The Dept. of Homeland Security's USCIS Program has incorporated many of the Border Patrol's best programs for dealing with the problem of illegal immigration.


    The authority to make crucial visa decisions has long been under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State, and his or her legally vested consular offices in the Foreign Service. The Secretary's legal authority to supervise this function was established in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which required the Department of State to coordinate with the Attorney General and other agencies in the Department of Justice, namely, the INS and the FBI.  Since 9/11, however, the Department of Homeland Security has absorbed both the authority of the Attorney General and the authority of the Secretary of State to establish regulations related to the granting and refusal of visas by consular officers, and to administer and to enforce the laws regarding the issuance and the denial of visas.  Placing visa issuance authority in the hands of Homeland Security represents a belief that visa policy can be used to protect the United States from terrorists.

    The Consular Lookout and Support System (CLASS) provides consular officers anywhere in the world access to the best information on people not wanted in the U.S.  It uses the most advanced foreign language algorithms to ensure that transliteration and common names are not overlooked, and it prevents any visa from being printed until our name-check system—including any required interagency consultations—has been cleared.


    Border security was never thought of as a national security issue prior to 9/11, and even though all 19 of the 9/11 hijackers had valid student or tourist visas, terrorism is now keen on the minds of everyone who thinks about border security.  Many homeland security proposals have involved attempts at border control.  For example, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed to build 700 miles of new fencing across the U.S.-Mexico border (however, no funding was made available to actually build all the fence, and Congress is rethinking the Act - see Wikipedia Entry on U.S.-Mexico Barrier).  The barrier is an outgrowth of three larger "Operations" to control illegal immigration: Operation Gatekeeper in California, Operation Hold-the-Line in Texas, and Operation Safeguard in Arizona.  Operation Hold-the-Line was the first intensive border security effort, and it started as early as 1993 in the El Paso area where agents literally sat in their vehicles, lined-up front-to-end (it has subsequently been replaced by something called Operation Linebacker which makes use of educational campaigns in the form of signs and sensors).  Ironically, some of the signs say "USA prohibido" which doesn't make much sense in Spanish since the acronym for the U.S. is Latin American countries is EEUU, not USA. 

    The Real ID Act of 2005 is another example of border security which aims to get at crime and terrorism problems.  The Act stiffens the documentation requirements for getting a valid ID, like a driver's license or personal identification card, as well as introduces stricter laws governing applications for asylum and deportation of aliens for suspected terrorist acts.  Because of the overall complexity of this Act (and the fact many states were in no position to comply with it), in 2007, Congress decided to put off the required implementation date until Demember 2009.

    Some say (e.g., Freilich & Guerette 2006) that the "real" crime being committed along the U.S.-Mexico border are the senseless deaths of immigrants due to overly strict law enforcement.  Every year, over 300 deaths of migrants occur while attempting to cross the border (Guerette 2007), and according to a Wikipedia Entry on Immigrant Deaths, that number has been doubling every year.  There are many reasons for the deaths, but basically because law enforcement has adequately covered all the "safer" areas to cross, all that's left are the hazardous crossing areas where risk of exposure to excessive heat is common.  Border Patrol officials have tried themselves to deal with this problem in the form of programs like BORSTAR and Operation Desert Safeguard which fortify regular patrols with rescue agents, but progress is mixed.  Private rescue groups like No More Deaths, the Border Action Network, Border Links, Derechos Humanos, Humane Borders, Healing Our Borders, and numerous religious organizations often take more proactive measures which, frankly, interfere with the carrying out of official U.S. Border Patrol operations.  Likewise, there are various vigilante groups operating on the U.S.-Mexico border, groups such as the Minutemen, the Minutewomen, and the Civil Homeland Defense.  These are people who have self-deputized themselves as the eyes and ears of officials, but the official Border Patrol position on them is that the government would prefer they were not present.  The vigilantes tend to foster or reinforce a "recruitment ethos" which attracts the rhetoric of right-wing American hate groups.  Border security issues are often confused by much rhetoric.  Conflating the issues with crime or terrorism doesn't exactly help sort out the "real" problems.  In the end, what's really needed are international initiatives and dialogues where the whole concept of "border" can be properly rectified with the realities of today's world.

ACLU Immigration Issues Page
American Association of Port Authorities

Better, Faster, and Cheaper Border Security
Center for Immigration Studies
David Montoya Article on Border Insecurity
Edwin Meese' Article on the Principles of Immigration
Federation for American Immigration Reform
Hudson Institute on Illegal Immigration, Past & Future
Immigration and National Security after 9/11
International Centre for Migration Policy Development
NewsMax Archive of Articles on Immigration/Borders
Office of Immigration Statistics
World Crimes

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Last updated: Mar. 19, 2013
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O'Connor, T.  (2013). "Border Security," MegaLinks in Criminal Justice. Retrieved from