Securing the US-Mexico Border: In Search of Enlightened Thinking

Steve Bailes

Steve Bailes

With the attention of the world’s media has been focused squarely on America’s on-off Summit with North Korea (which has now taken place with astonishing and somewhat unpredicted end results, of course), it has been a case of ‘all quiet on the southern front’ – the southern front of the USA, that is. At least until recently when President Donald Trump rattled the cage of Mexico at a campaign-style rally in Nashville, writes Steve Bailes.

The US President told supporters: “In the end, Mexico is going to pay for the wall. They do absolutely nothing to stop people from going through Mexico, from Honduras and all of these other countries. They do nothing to help us.”

Enrique Peña Nieto, the President of Mexico, swiftly responded on Twitter that his country will “never pay for a wall. Not now, not ever.”

This development has reignited the media storm on another Trump campaign pledge that seemed more steeped in fantasy than fact.

Budget to build the wall

In March, The Independent reported that Trump had secured just $20 million (or 0.1%) of the estimated $21 billion needed to build the Mexican border wall (or enough for a blockade of just two miles). A year earlier, US authorities posted a call for proposals on two different kinds of wall – one solid concrete, one see-through.

Customs and Border Protection, the Homeland Security Department agency that will oversee the project and eventually patrol and maintain the wall, wants a 30-foot high structure that’s difficult to climb or cut through and looks good from the north side only (that is, on the American side).

Construction of the border wall was underway by March this year, according to Ronald Vitiello, US Customs and Border Protection’s acting deputy commissioner. He told reporters at a news conference held in Washington DC: “We’re on track to replace 20 miles of primary vehicle barrier in Santa Teresa, New Mexico. Ground breaking is scheduled for early April.”

Vitiello thanked the Trump administration for its leadership and commitment to border security and recognised Congress for its $1.6 billion ‘down payment’ on the border wall system, which was included in the Consolidated Appropriation Act of 2018.

Situational awareness

As is evident, the focus has been largely on the concrete wall, but the other proposal called for a see-through structure that ‘facilitates situational awareness, but doesn’t detract from its [ie the wall’s] function’. This begs the question as to why mesh fencing isn’t being considered. With the use of radar, PIDs, electric fencing and human patrols, a far more cost-effective and comprehensive integrated solution would be achievable.

I’ve long supported the ‘onion skin’ approach to security, with successive layers of protection to be broached from the outside in. The best security is achieved by the clever combination of physical, human and electronic security measures. Similarly enlightened thinking is in evidence in the States – with wild horses incorporated in the border patrol force, borrowing an idea from nearly a century ago as the most appropriate means of transport for the terrain.

Currently, just 654 miles of fence line exist between the United States and Mexico, accounting for about a third of the border. The rest is defined by mountains, rivers, private ranches and wild country. Terrain more suited for horses, in fact, and which all agents had back when the US Border Patrol was founded in 1924.

Wild Horse Inmate Program

The Wild Horse Inmate Program (WHIP), operated in Arizona, Colorado and Nevada among other States, puts prisoners to work training wild horses or mustangs such that they can be an agile, but inexpensive border force for adoption by the US Border Patrol. WHIP equips inmates with skills and insights they hope to one day carry with them into their rehabilitation beyond prison.

Florence State Prison in Arizona, about 140 miles north of the Mexican border, has participated in the program since 2012. Most inmates have no experience with horses initially, but over the course of four-to-six months, the men train their horses to tolerate bridles and saddles, respond to commands to trot and canter and perform footwork that will serve them well on the uneven desert terrain that’s found along the border.

Once trained, the horses are used in border cities like Jacumba and San Diego, California to help detect illegal crossings and drug trafficking.

Intelligent thinking

While it’s too early to assess the long-term impact, not one of the 50 or so participating prisoners who has been released has returned to prison, prompting The Economist to ask the question: ‘Can horse taming prevent re-offending?’ Mustang control, prisoner rehabilitation, enhanced security and cost-effective and appropriate solutions. This kind of thinking would seem to be altogether more intelligent than the bluster of Trump and policy-making and politicking via Twitter.

Would that the same sort of enlightenment could be applied to Trump’s Mexico wall…

Steve Bailes is Business Development Manager at the Zaun Group

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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