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Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly

Chapter 8. The Costs of Homeland Security

Tony Payan et Amanda Vásquez

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1The US-Mexico border has undergone several historical transformations. Between 1848 and 1920 the border went through an era best characterized by informality: there were no border guards, no customs controls, and no checkpoints. This era is best referred to as a frontier system. In general, although a line divided the two countries on the sand and the river banks, border controls were practically non-existent. The Mexican Revolution of 1910-21 brought a new era for the border, one better referred to as a customs system. In 1924 the Border Patrol was created, and customs and immigration personnel at border checkpoints became a regular and increasing fixture. By 1929 Mexicans required a visa to enter the United States and it became illegal to enter the country between ports of entry. Between 1920 and 1980 the US government more heavily regulated economic activities across the border, and cross-border immigration and mobility became increasingly restricted. Of grave concern was the alcohol smuggling along the border during the Prohibition era in the United States. This period was, in effect, a customs management system. The border, however, was to go through two more “border systems.” Between 1980 and 2001 a law-enforcement border system focused on illegal drugs, illegal immigration, and general economic activity, particularly contraband. Not only were the laws more restrictive, but the penalties for violating the laws regulating cross-border activity also became more stringent.

2While the other three historical systems blended one into the other, the third border system was to change abruptly into the fourth and present border regime. A key incident inspired these changes in 2001. In effect, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, inaugurated a new era along the border, a regime in which security became the focus. Trade, immigration, illegal drugs, and all other cross-border interactions were redefined as matters of national security. As Robert Emerson (2004, 459) has observed, “Key incidents involve particular observations that play a central role in identifying and opening up new analytic issues and broader lines of theoretical development.” The shift from a law-enforcement focus to a security focus in 2001 brought profound policy and practical changes to the US-Mexico border. These policies marked the most recent changes to the border’s structure.

3As during previous border systems, the “agents” of the border, that is, border residents and border crossers – from shoppers to business people to students to families and friends – were forced to modify their behaviour in order to maintain their daily activities and continue with their cross-border lives in the face of the new border system. As each transformation in border policy affected the structure of the border, that structure in turn affected the behaviour of nearly all border agents. Although the debate between scholars favouring “structure-based” approaches and those favouring “agent-based” approaches is not new, when it is applied to the border, scholars must question whether the nature of the border – the laws that govern the border, its physical appearance, and so on – is the primary determinant of how the border functions. In such an instance border agents (those who enforce the border and border crossers alike) would be governed by the structure of the border. In contrast an agent-based approach would assume that the agents are the primary determinants of how the border functions.

4As the history of the border suggests, the nature of its structure has gone through four stages since its initial establishment in 1848. In this chapter we suggest that neither a structure-based nor an agent-based analysis is sufficient to explain what history shows about the border. Rather, a more holistic, albeit tautological, approach is more appropriate, wherein the structure of the border – at a minimum, the effectiveness of its functioning – is affected by border agents as much as the behaviour of border agents is affected by changes in the border’s systemic structure. Clearly, each new border system has affected the borderlands in all four components analyzed in this volume: market forces and trade flows, policy activities at all levels of government, the political clout of the borderlands vis-à-vis their central governments, and the specific culture of the borderlands. Each was affected in two ways: (1) in the short term or the long term; (2) the degree of each new regime’s effect on each of these aspects. This chapter explores these elements from the perspective of both structural change and agent adaptation in the move toward a security-based border regime after 2001.

5Because structures imply new costs and create new benefits, we interweave our agent-structure debate with a cost-benefit analysis of the border. The creators and modifiers of the structure expect both, although they nearly always expect the benefits to exceed the costs. In this study we measure the overall US investment in the new border-security regime that emerged after September 11, 2001, the investment from which the new border structure materialized. After noting the overall investment in the new security-based border system, we assess the added burden on border residents stemming from the new security regime and attempt to establish whether this additional burden was a temporary nuisance or is a permanent ongoing cost. Most of these costs are quantifiable, although some, such as cross-border intimacy, are not. Most of the benefits of the new border-security strategy are also quantifiable. Finally we compare the added costs to the benefits measured in terms of increased national security. If quantifiable national-security policies produce decreased drug flows, fewer undocumented border crossers, less contraband (other than drugs), and fewer terrorists coming across the border, while promoting greater and safer trade between the two countries, one may conclude that US investment in new border-security strategies was successful. As we move through this cost-benefit analysis, we insert the narrative concerning the adaptation of agents to the new structures in regard to some of the four elements central to the theoretical premises of this volume.

6To assess the total costs of the new border-security environment on the US-Mexico border major statistical data kept by various organizations that monitor both private and public spending were compiled and analyzed. Various interviews were conducted with officials and community leaders, in order to gather their impressions of the changed security-based border system and the hidden costs to the border community. Similar interviews were conducted with researchers and border residents, in order to assess their impressions of the costs of the new regime and how they had adjusted to the new-border security structures. Finally, research done on the benefits of the new homeland security regime was surveyed.


7With every border regime has come the creation of new laws and new bureaucracies, or the reorganization of the bureaucracies already operating on the border. Every historical border era represented an escalation of monetary, personnel, and equipment resources dedicated to “bringing order to the border,” “enforcing border laws,” or “securing the border.” The advent of the security era on the US-Mexico border was no exception. As a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the US Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act, a law designed to enhance the authority of law-enforcement agencies to fight terrorism. In 2002 Congress moved on to reorganize the border bureaucracies, passing the Homeland Security Act, which effectively established the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS pooled together 22 different agencies, a workforce of some 180,000 bureaucrats, and a budget of over US$ 40 billion in 2005 (General Accounting Office 2005; Department of Homeland Security 2005a). In regard to borders, title IV of the Homeland Security Act created the Office of the Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security, grouping all border agencies under that position. In sum, starting a few weeks after 9/11 some of the most important security initiatives coming out of the new laws, in addition to bureaucratic reorganization, were directed at securing US borders. This was done despite the fact that none of the terrorists had used either the Mexican or the Canadian border to enter the United States.

8The border security initiative of the new DHS was broken down into programs, and three of these were particularly important. The first was the Customs Trade Partnership against Terrorism (C-TPAT), which began in November 2001. C-TPAT was designed to secure the supply chain from the factories of Mexican maquiladoras to the transportation companies to US importers. All producers, carriers, and importers must register with US Customs for pre-clearance before their merchandise and personnel get to the border, which, in turn, expedites their crossing at the port of entry.

9The second important initiative was the National Targeting Center, which was to gather statistics on all border crossers (people, vehicles, and transactions) for the purposes of detecting higher-risk crossers or transactions and allowing targeted inspections of those with a higher probability of being associated with criminal or terrorist elements. It integrated government, commercial, and law-enforcement databases into an evolving statistics-producing mechanism to make the latest criminal trends on the border available to law-enforcement officers on the ground. The targets identified as higher risk are screened on arrival at the port of entry, while those deemed of lower risk are only randomly checked.

10The third effort was the United States Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology (US VISIT) program. The system has been initiated at airports and seaports across the nation, but it is still under test at some land ports of entry along the US-Mexico border. The system scans travel documents and takes fingerprints and pictures of the border crosser. The data are then run through databases to determine whether the individual is a criminal or a terrorist. This system also keeps track of all border-crossing information on any one individual over time.

11Many other programs and agencies were “beefed-up,” adding personnel, introducing higher technologies, and adding equipment. One such agency is the US Border Patrol and its various programs on the ground along the border.

12The new laws, the reorganization, and the myriad new border-security initiatives, as well as the additions to existing programs, have resulted in two measurable changes: (1) increased costs for border security; (2) increased burdens on border communities from Tijuana-San Diego to Matamoros-Brownsville.

13The new investments in border security following 9/11 are best measured by observing the increased expenditures on border security. The total border-security budget in comparative perspective shot up from US$ 19.7 billion in the fiscal year 2001 to US$ 40.2 billion in fiscal 2005 (see table 8.1).

14The number of personnel dedicated to securing the border also increased at the federal level. Table 8.2 shows the increase in expenditures on manpower to perform border duties. On February 7, 2005, US President George W. Bush presented his budget to Congress, requesting a 4.8 percent increase in Customs and Border Protection funding, for a total of US$ 6.7 billion for fiscal 2006.

15More stringent border management is commonly associated with this investment. Not only was there an entire bureaucratic reorganization to respond to national security needs, but the resources poured into making the border more efficient also grew considerably. It may be appropriate to emphasize that these investments and policies changed the structure in question; that is, they changed the nature of the border. However, one may first question whether the agents, specifically the border residents – businesspeople, families, school and university students, and even criminals on either side of the border – simply conformed to the changes or whether their behaviour has come to affect the nature of the border. After exploring the agents’ reactions one may then question whether the costs of the new border are beneficial, not beneficial, or neutral. Having reviewed the fiscal costs of increased security, we now analyze the costs of the new border-security regime on the US-Mexico divide.

Table 8.1: Total US Federal Government Expenditures on Border Security, Fiscal Years 2001-06 (US$ Billions)













Note: As the Department of Homeland Security was not created until 2003, comparable estimates for the programs now organized under it were provided by the White House for the fiscal years 2001 and 2002. The figure for the fiscal year 2006 is the amount requested by the White House.
Sources: Department of Homeland Security. “2004 Budget in Brief” (2004); Office of Management and Budget. “Department of Homeland Security” (2006)

Table 8.2: Total US Federal Government Expenditures on Personnel Performing Duties on Border Security, Fiscal Years 2003-06









Note: As the Department of Homeland Security was not created until 2003, the figure for fiscal 2003 represents an estimate of the Customs budget. The figure for fiscal 2006 is the amount requested by the White House.
Sources: Department of Homeland Security. “2004 Budget in Brief” (2004); Office of Management and Budget. “Department of Homeland Security” (2006)


16Measuring the costs of compliance for US-Mexico border businesses requires a breakdown of two important economic sectors operating on the border: (1) the local retail business, in which some 246 million Mexican cross-border shoppers spend as much as US$ 7.5 billion a year, according to a study done by the Center for Border Economic Studies of the University of Texas-Pan American (Ghaddar and Brown 2005); and (2) the substantial cross-border import/export trade, which has a total value of US$ 260 billion a year. The very day after 9/11 changes in security and policy were reportedly evident along the border. Commuters accustomed to crossing at the international port of entry every day, for business, school, or personal visits, found themselves stuck in lines with hours to wait. Some consumers and commuters found it more beneficial to simply stay at home and wait for the chaos of the tragedy to pass. The effects of 9/11 were noted throughout the border region, particularly in the major cities of the four border districts, that is, El Paso, Nogales, San Diego, and Laredo.

17In the city of El Paso, Texas, crossings of privately owned vehicles declined by more than six million between 2001 and 2002 (City of El Paso 2001-02). Prominent local leaders interviewed in May 2004, at the annual Border Security Conference at the University of Texas at El Paso, estimated that declines in border crossings due to policies or effects stemming from 9/11 may have translated into 50,000 fewer sales or transactions in the city. According to estimates by the Texas Workforce Commission, jobs in wholesale and retail businesses fell by 300 in 2001, following a three-year increase, and fell another 200 in 2002. If these estimates are reliable, the aftermath of 9/11 produced notable damage within El Paso’s economy.

18There are rival hypotheses to these occurrences, however. According to the City of El Paso (2001-02), trade stimulated by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the growth of the maquiladora industry were major components of economic prosperity for the city. Another hypothesis is that during 2001, the entire nation experienced economic decline that could be attributed to a variety of causes, ranging from decreased consumer confidence following 9/11 to economic trends that were initiated during the previous Clinton Administration, trends that would have affected general trade and the maquiladora industry, and translated into losses in the El Paso economy, whether 9/11 occurred or not.

19Yet a third hypothesis argues that 9/11 and its aftermath had no significant impact on the local economy. According to the City of El Paso (2001-02), trade with Mexico continued at a high rate throughout 2001 and into 2002, accounting for 43.8 percent of all Texas exports, and imports through El Paso alone totalled more than US$ 22.3 billion in 2001. The city reported economic growth trends from 2000 to 2002 and projected continued growth through 2016. Thus, despite immediate declines in border crossings and economic growth following 9/11, El Paso finds itself back at its level of normalcy.

20Debates regarding the impact of 9/11 on local economies extend to other border cities as well. As the long lines at ports of entry passed, the border economy returned to its previous levels of normalcy. Studies conducted by the offices of Economic Development at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University found a slight decline in the level of northbound truck crossings between August and September 2001, but by October levels had returned to “normal” (Wright, Howard, and Davis 2002). However, the number of passenger-vehicle crossings declined three million in Texas, nearly two million in California, and nearly 500,000 in Arizona between August and September. These had not attained normalcy by October, but they have done so by now (Wright, Howard, and Davis 2002).

21Based on the significant change in numbers between August and October 2001, economic indicators should reflect negative changes in the economy of the Arizona border. Rival hypotheses make this assertion difficult, however. According to the Arizona Department of Commerce, the entire state experienced economic decline, profiled through declines in individual household income and decreased growth in retail sales (University of Arizona Economic and Business Research Center 2005). Subsequently, as with the case of El Paso, explanations range from the impact of 9/11 to the nationwide trend in economic decline that began during the latter half of 2001. While the declines are difficult to attribute to the effects of 9/11 and the corresponding costs of security on the border, the indicators clearly demonstrate that economic prosperity in Arizona has progressed since 2001 and has returned to levels of normalcy observed in 1999 in most areas.

22Like El Paso and Nogales, San Diego reported immediate effects after 9/11. Information released by the US and Foreign Commerce Service and the US Department of State indicated that waiting times at international ports of entry increased to between two and four times, prompting a decline of 27,000 pedestrian crossings and 28,000 private-vehicle crossings, and that this decreased number of crossings, in combination with decreased consumer confidence, resulted in a 30 percent loss in business for 96 percent of businesses in San Diego during the first three months following September 11, 2001, while 56 percent of San Diego businesses experienced losses of 50 percent or more and 21 percent experienced losses of 60 percent or more (Department of Commerce 2005). International trade flowing through ports along California’s borders fell by more than US$ 11 million in net exports (State of California 2004). The months following 9/11 were difficult for the border economy.

23It would be unfair, however, to present this data without acknowledging that there had been a downward trend in international trade through California ports since 2000, long before 9/11. Between 2000 and 2001 net exports through these ports fell by more than US$ 50 million. As with the other border districts, one must question whether the effects attributed to 9/11 have been inflated. Since that time San Diego has returned to pre-9/11 levels of growth and trade. Although the effects of 9/11 may have been difficult at first, they were by no means detrimental to long-term growth.

24Unlike the other three border districts, Laredo does not seem to have experienced significant loss in the aftermath of 9/11. Between 2001 and 2002 exports to Mexico through the Laredo port increased by US$ 3.4 billion and imports from Mexico increased by US$ 0.4 billion (City of Laredo 2004). At the same time the city reported a US$ 0.1 billion increase in local wages. These increases are difficult to explain when compared with the effects experienced by the other three border districts, but it is possible to hypothesize that the extraordinary level of trade normally experienced in Laredo may have cushioned economic decline, allowing for a slowdown of growth but not permitting a substantial decline. It appears as though Laredo’s local economy was able to sustain a path of normal development despite the changes surrounding September 11, 2001.

25Before moving away from the local economy, it must be noted that new policies were implemented at international ports of entry. On October 17, 2001, when authorities implemented level-one procedures for border monitoring, the US and Foreign Commerce Service and the US Department of State suggested that these procedures may have interrupted the normal flow of goods and prevented it from returning, and they further suggested that the new procedures would prevent future growth and progress that would facilitate the movement of goods and people across the border (Department of Commerce 2005). Although border procedures will likely never return to their previous state and, in this sense, have attained a new “normal,” the border economy and border crossings have returned to their normal levels. Moreover, all four of the border cities reported efforts to improve and facilitate border crossings. Efforts to facilitate crossings do not necessarily have to be abandoned with the introduction of new technology. Rather, technology may help to provide a safer, more efficient method of crossing.

26Returning to the agent-structure debate, one may argue that the ability of border crossers to maintain levels of local commerce may serve as a strong argument in support of the agent-based approach. Although the policies following September 11, 2001, clearly changed the structure of the border, border crossers seem to have adapted and restored local commerce to its previous level. Thus changing the level of commerce, in turn, affects the face of the border, and this area demonstrates an interdependent relationship between agent and structure.

Impact on the Trucking Business

27One of the most important costs for the import/export business stemming from 9/11 and the new border-security initiatives is centred on the trucking business. Although consumer levels quickly returned to normal in the United States, trucking industries and importation firms were overwhelmed by the burdens of extensive inspections at international ports of entry. After 9/11 the US government quickly acted to secure all international crossings and ensure that illegal weapons and aliens did not slip through the cracks, further threatening the well-being of the nation. Cargo entering the United States through the southern border was of particular concern, for the process involves many actors, and accountability for the loads is difficult to secure, which leaves this cargo vulnerable to illegal infiltration.

28A number of actors are involved in the importation process that dominates the southern border. Products to be imported originate with manufacturers and other commercial organizations, but these organizations may outsource the transportation of their products to other firms. Transportation firms arrange for the movement of goods from their point of origin into the United States. These transportation firms may further outsource actual transportation by contracting individual drivers to transport cargo loads across the border. This multitude of actors makes accountability difficult. Without a central source of accountability it is possible for drug cartels and terrorist networks, for example, to infiltrate the process by persuading individuals at corporation loading docks, employees of transportation firms, or individual drivers to smuggle anything from drugs to humans to dangerous weapons.

29Customs agents at international ports of entry along the southern border have long understood the need to monitor shipments. Following 9/11 experts quickly recognized the importance of devising a program that would entice actors to have a central system that would not only be more accountable for goods being transported but would also better meet security goals. To this end inspection policies were implemented at ports of entry that sought to increase and improve levels of inspection, in hopes of minimizing the smuggling of illegal goods or individuals. These increased levels of inspection in turn increased border waiting times and increased difficulties for the trade process.

30C-TPAT sought to control international trade and limit the possibility of security threats that might penetrate the border through seemingly routine trade (Customs and Border Protection 2005). As noted earlier, the nature of the import process along the southern border makes it vulnerable to manipulation by drug cartels and terrorist networks, and disconnection between truckers, importers, and producers leaves wide gaps in the trade processes that are vulnerable to infiltration and corruption.

31C-TPAT was designed to create a network of partners, or companies, that would agree to take certain precautions to ensure that safe, untainted loads were secured from start to finish. If the Department of Homeland Security could be assured that the loads being transported were secured, the level of inspection could be reduced enough to provide for a more timely border-crossing process. Today C-TPAT is a partnership whose membership consists of companies that have fulfilled a series of requisites, designed to ensure that cargo loads will not be penetrated by drug cartels, terrorist networks, or any other network that may pose a threat to national security. Participants must first provide evidence that they and their partners have obtained C-TPAT certification from the government, and, subsequently, demonstrate sufficient capacity to meet security criteria. The primary objective of these criteria is to ensure that participants “conduct a comprehensive assessment of their international supply chains” from the “point of origin (manufacturer/supplier/vendor) through the point of distribution” (Customs and Border Protection 2005). At the point of origin, C-TPAT requirements include container security: specifically, containers must undergo physical inspections prior to loading on all surfaces; container seals must be controlled and secured by designated employees who are trained in identifying “compromised seals and containers”; and, before transportation, these containers must remain stored in a manner that prevents access by unauthorized individuals.

32Securing the loaded container consists of a number of “physical access controls” that prevent access by unauthorized individuals. CTPAT stipulates that employees and management must comply with specific guidelines for background checks, and that these checks must be performed before new employees are hired. In order to monitor individuals who have access to containers the manufacturer or vendor must employ an employee identification system that designates the areas to which employees are granted access, as well as points within the facility that monitor the movement of employees within restricted areas. Equally important to the process is the monitoring of visitors. C-TPAT requirements stipulate that photo identification is necessary for all visitors. Photo identification must also be presented by all those making deliveries to the facility, and deliveries are to be routinely screened for safety. Theoretically, securing access to cargo loads will help to prevent tampering or manipulation of cargo contents. Even after the load has left the point of origin, partners must take steps to ensure that the load remains safe. Safeguarding documents containing information regarding the load and verifying the weight and marks of loads at the point of distribution, compared with the figures recorded at the point of origin, are important to the security process (Customs and Border Protection 2005).

33These C-TPAT stipulations seem to be logical and reasonable: it seems only appropriate that a firm would have full control over the load at all times. However, the changes that must be made to accommodate these requirements place cost burdens on firms, as they are not easy to fulfill. Partnerships and proposals have been rejected, which has disrupted the previously existing normal flow of trade. Firms that choose not to accept these changes incur costs of time when their loads undergo extensive inspections at international ports of entry. Although the US Bureau of Customs and Border Protection has attempted to accommodate the flow of trade by providing a system to facilitate international crossings, the initial costs and changes that firms must incur to avoid obstacles to trade remain.

34In addition to C-TPAT, Customs and Border Protection has employed technology and strategies to more effectively target loads requiring extensive inspections. According to Customs and Border Protection, an Automated Targeting System is used in combination with information obtained by the National Targeting Center to provide “tactical targeting” of cargo that may pose a threat to security (Customs and Border Protection 2006). Through the use of intelligence Customs and Border Protection is better able to identify people, firms, and types of goods traditionally of concern to national security. Risk assessments are provided electronically, and agents are able to limit extensive inspections.

35Facilitating the trade process is crucial to the economy of the United States and the southern border, but providing for national security is no less important. Customs and Border Protection has worked to develop a program that accommodates both of these values simultaneously. The costs that importers have incurred in order to make their processes more secure are noteworthy.

36Although to date there is no comprehensive study of the costs of compliance with US border initiatives on the US-Mexico border, Transport Canada (a Canadian government department) has released a study undertaken by consultants that estimated that similar compliance programs have cost the Canadian trucking business upward of CA$ 290 million (DAMF Consultants 2005). However, Christopher B. Lofgren, president and chief executive of Schneider, Inc., a trucking corporation, said that “immediately afterward [September 11], crossing borders in Canada was much more inefficient. Now, with pre-clearing the loads electronically, that has improved” (Business Week 2005). High costs resulted from US-Mexico border waiting and processing times; compliance time; resources for drivers’ participation in C-TPAT and other clearance programs; physical security measures adopted to comply with C-TPAT and other program requirements; training and border-crossing bonuses for drivers; administrative costs required for advance reporting requirements; and so on. In that regard, Lofgren said,

We’re more challenged on the time crossing borders in Mexico. It could be an hour, but it could be a day ... Clearly, there are issues around security and immigration law ... one of the things we’ve got to figure out is how to make that border crossing much more efficient.

37The impact of the new security measures on the US-Mexico border is different, however, because Mexican trucking companies have not been allowed to join in the long-haul trucking industry in the United States. Mexican trucking companies can travel only within 32 kilometres (20 miles) of the border, making their trucks essentially drayage trucks (hauling loaded boxes across the border). Thus the greatest impact on the cross-border trucking business on the US-Mexico border is on the drayage system. The added man-hour costs and additional fuel costs related to longer waiting times at ports of entry are mostly concentrated on these drayage companies. In contrast, the long-haul trucking business has not been affected.

38The additional costs to the transportation industry, concentrated in the drayage system, represent a hidden tax on the cost of doing business across the US-Mexico border. In turn this represents a cost to the users of shipping services. Down the economic chain these costs are passed to the consumer, generally in the form of higher prices. However, according to the economist Roberto Coronado at the Federal Reserve Bank of El Paso (interviewed on October 20, 2005), these costs were quickly absorbed and, even if they became permanent, did not have an impact on the cross-border trucking statistics or the volume of trade, at least not a cost that can be easily disentangled from the economic slowdown during the second half of 2001. A look at the statistics of incoming truck crossings on the US-Mexico border in all four states shows no clear pattern other than steady growth since 1994. The effect of the months following 9/11 and the lasting effect of the new security measures are negligible. In El Paso, for example, according to figures provided by Mr. Coronado, truck crossings went from 54,381 in August 2001 to 52,597 in September 2001, but they were back up to 57,790 in November 2001, and by May 2005 they had grown to 61,854. Trucking traffic across the border seemed affected much more by the economic conditions of the two countries than by 9/11 and its aftermath. Trade did not diminish considerably after September 11, 2001, and has continued to grow, obeying larger economic forces rather than security concerns or measures on the border.

39Despite a significant initial increase in the waiting period for truckers to obtain clearance at ports of entry immediately following 9/11, the normal waiting periods returned not long after. In fact infrastructure investments by the US government at the border have made trucking crossings more efficient, while compliance with security measures appears to be lessening the waiting times for trucks at ports of entry. According to Mr. Coronado, the costs associated with compliance with new border-security measures do not seem to have resulted in either increased costs to the consumer (inflation) or considerably higher costs to the cross-border trade. In fact cross-border surface trade reached a record level in August 2005, when it rose 8.2 percent over August 2004 to reach a total of US$ 21 billion for the month (Bureau of Transportation Statistics 2005).

40Returning briefly to the topic of the agent-structure debate, it is clear that the changing structure of the border has stringently confined the behaviours of the agents. One must question whether these agents have been able to react in a manner that reciprocally changes the border’s structure. Such a reaction may not yet be observable within the import/export sector: that is, most agents continue to conform to the limitations of the border rather than acting in a manner that changes the border. This particular sector supports the structure-based argument and does not support our hypothesis. However, it is simply one of a number of sectors examined.

Changes in Immigration Costs

41Perceptions of the US-Mexico borderland range from a third-world ghetto to barbed wire keeping immigrants at bay. Very few include images of efficient ports of entry that monitor hundreds of thousands of exchanges each day; daily exchanges of students and professors committed to creating curricula that intimately study border relations at the sites of interaction; or intergovernmental cooperation arising from a binational commitment to improving health and the environment. In short, few perceptions include the positive and complex tapestry that is the US-Mexico border. Each year citizens living far from the border, often inspired by misleading perceptions and overwhelmed by fears of uncontrolled immigration, dangers to national security, and economic downturn, propose radical actions, including the installation of electric fencing (Bear 2003) or the use of the military (Smitherman 1997), to ensure that Mexican immigrants are not allowed to enter the country.

42Not all immigration along the southern border is illegal, and most crossings at the US-Mexico border are for personal reasons and are harmless to national security. Indeed, each year, of the more than one million undocumented crossers who are detained, perhaps as many as 500,000 make it across the border successfully, in contrast to the 300 million documented, legal border crossers who cross at the thirty-plus ports of entry along the US-Mexico border.

43Two new measures related to human mobility are important to note among the new and permanent costs of homeland security. The first is the US VISIT program, mentioned earlier. It requires that everyone crossing US borders be fingerprinted and photographed. The information gathered is then matched with all databases to detect if the border crosser poses a “threat” to national security. The process is already operating at international airports across the nation, but it will be implemented at land ports of entry as well. This is likely to mean longer waiting times at inspection points, unless the program operates efficiently and more inspection stations are opened for both pedestrians and vehicles. The program will eventually require considerable expenditure and will represent an enormous inconvenience to border residents because their exit will be checked with nearly as much care as their entrance or return to the United States. The infrastructure and personnel investment will be considerable.

44The second measure related to human mobility is a government initiative, still not implemented but being phased in, that will require US citizens crossing the border by land to carry a passport. Scheduled to come into effect on December 31, 2007, this measure will require millions of Americans who currently visit Mexico without a passport or a visa to pay for and carry a passport, even if they are crossing a land border to visit a relative or friend, to shop, to be a tourist, or to do business, study, research or work. This will represent a personal cost to each American wanting to cross the border, even casually, and to every American border citizen and resident who wants to enter Mexico, no matter the reason.

45Both the US VISIT program and the new passport requirement for border crossers, while not yet fully implemented at the US-Mexico border, will clearly affect both the pockets of US citizens and legal residents, and the ease with which they cross the border. As the DHS phases in these requirements over time, the greatest impact will be on families whose members live on both sides of the border and want to maintain contact with their relatives. Many of these daily and weekly border crossers can least afford the costs of obtaining passports for their entire families, or the inconvenience to their lives.

46The two new immigration measures that are to be phased in on the border will have an important consequence for life in all US-Mexico border sister towns. The cities on either side of the border share a unique and intimate historical connection that has extended into the contemporary traditions of the region. Because the region was once part of a single country, Mexico, its residents share intimate cultural and familial connections that extend across the international boundary. Families on both sides of the border share daily activities in a manner that turns the border into more of a blur than a line. This connection between sister cities along the southern border is evident simply in the composition of their populations. In most cities along the US side of the border the population is at least 50 percent Hispanic, rising as high as 70-80 percent in some, and 10-20 per cent of the population comprises Mexican-born residents (Migration Policy Institute 2004). Some estimates suggest that more than one-third of the population of El Paso were born in Mexico.

47Within this context border communities are in a unique position because many post-DHS policies have failed to improve security practices along the border. Instead they have interfered detrimentally with daily exchanges. A recent publication of the Immigration Policy Center asserted, “We must accept the reality that harsher immigration laws would not have stopped the terrorists, [for] as immigration laws change, terrorists simply adapt” (Johnson and Stock 2003). However, stricter immigration policies have been exactly the result of the homeland security phenomenon. According to the Department of State, “Visa applications take a longer process,” and it further noted that “the consular officer must evaluate the security risk presented by the applicant... This affects both tourist and business non-immigrant visas” (Department of State 2003). Since September 11, 2001, processing applications for residency in the United States have averaged more than one year, forcing some families to live separately for at least a year. Lengthy background checks, supplemental forms, and new policies have caused a slowdown in the adjudication of immigration applications. Border cities that once felt like thriving sister communities now feel more like strictly separated and somewhat disintegrated cities. The effects on all areas of life have been innumerable.

48However, some accommodations have been made to try to distinguish between daily commuters and individuals intending to enter the United States. In August 2004 the DHS (67 Fed. Reg. 18,065) announced that all Mexican nationals holding “laser-visa cards,” cards issued to individuals who make routine visits to the United States for confirmed purposes including business and education, would be allowed to visit border cities for up to thirty days, an increase from the previous limit of seventy-two hours (Migration Policy Institute 2003). Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas noted (UPI 2004) that

Today’s actions – expanding use of expedited expulsion while easing visa restrictions for legitimate visitors – move us towards a more realistic border policy. Our ultimate goal should be safeguarding our country, and facilitating the cross-border travel and commerce that is so important to our economy.

49Life along the southern border depends on interaction, and it includes families, students, businesspeople, and officials who work together daily. It is imperative that the daily interaction of residents and family members across the southern border is allowed as steps are taken to preserve the national security.

50Interestingly, although immigration policy was part of the bureaucratic reorganization that followed 9/11, the principles that underlie the policy remain the same. Family reunification remains the main goal of current US immigration policy. The added security measures have increased costs to individual clients of US immigration services, but 9/11 has not substantially changed the policy or the targets of the policy. Moreover, when the new measures are matched against the ultimate objective of stemming the flow of undocumented border crossers, it does not appear to have reduced either the total numbers or the rates of undocumented immigration numbers. Immigration reform, involving a fundamental shift in immigration policy, remains an elusive goal.

Impact on Local Autonomy and Borderland Culture

51Not only were flows of investment and market forces affected – however temporarily, albeit with longer-term systemic effects – but a considerable loss of autonomy also occurred. Previously, particularly in the earlier border regimes, local authorities had considerable discretion to deal with their counterparts across the border, but this autonomy was gradually lost and became non-existent after September 11, 2001. Almost all border policy is now made in Washington, DC, with little or no regard for borderland agents. The structure is changed from above and the agents below can only adapt to it. Given this loss of autonomy, and the fact that the border was not a matter of national security, the political clout of the borderland communities has decreased considerably. In fact, if local political communities, through their economic elites, had ever had any power to lobby and affect border policy in any way, the transformation of all border matters into an issue of national security has severely affected their ability to do so.

52A word must also be said about the culture of the borderlands and its interaction with the new regime. Whether the new regime was intended to affect the borderlands culturally, it is clear that the border counties of the southern United States have an increasingly Hispanic cultural makeup, a trend that has remained unaffected by the new border regime. Culture does not flow the way market forces flow. Culture is a gradual, more resilient process, which is not necessarily subject to governmental regulation. In this regard culture will likely remain unaffected for a much longer period, even if the new security-based border system remains for a very long time.


53September 11, 2001, meant not only a new era in the pursuit of US security but also new investment in the pursuit of that security. The expected benefits of that investment are found explicitly in the mission of the DHS: (1) fewer drugs crossing the US-Mexico border; (2) fewer illegal aliens crossing the border; (3) the capture of potential terrorists trying to cross the border. All three benefits can be measured by looking at the statistics available from the period 2001-06 and using them to determine whether the goals of homeland security have been achieved.

The Business of Drugs

54One of the most important law-enforcement concerns on the US-Mexico border is illegal drugs. Law enforcement in this area has not experienced the same level of “securitization” that immigration underwent after 9/11. Although the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) remains within the Department of Justice, rather than being transferred to the DHS, the rhetoric around illegal drugs is increasingly enveloped in the language of security. In fact the DHS’s highlights for the year 2005 expressly stated that the DHS had “thwarted terrorism and protected citizens by breaking up drug smuggling networks and their assets,” a sign that there is a level of conflation of the issues of drugs and terrorism at the border (Department of Homeland Security 2005c). Moreover, in designating Roger Mackin as counternarcotics officer and US interdiction coordinator for the DHS, Tom Ridge said on March 25, 2005, that he was “pleased that Roger Mackin will be joining our team at the Department of Homeland Security to help us combat this serious threat posed by drug traffickers who are violating our laws and may be helping terrorism flourish across our borders” (Department of Homeland Security 2005b). Thus, because controlling illegal drugs is a hypothetical component of “securing” the border, it is important to look at the effect of the new border-security strategy on the policy against illegal drugs. Two particular items must be analyzed: the increased efforts of the federal government to stop the flow of illegal drugs on the border; and whether the new homeland security strategy and tactics have indeed stemmed the flow. In other words, has the investment paid off?

55To answer this question requires looking first at the additional investment in combating illegal drugs. Table 8.3 shows the annual federal expenditures on drug control according to the US government’s National Drug Control Strategy (White House 2005).

Table 8.3: US Federal Government Funding for Control of Illegal Drugs, Fiscal Years 2000-2006 (US$ Millions)















Source: White House, The National Drug Control Strategy (2005)

56The DHS Office of Field Operations has over 2,500 Customs and Border Protection officers specifically identified with drug enforcement, in addition to the drug enforcement-related activities of the DEA (11,000), the Border Patrol (11,000), the Office of Information Technology, the Office of Air and Marine Operations, and other agencies. The federal government has also created a host of new border programs to deal with the issue. For example, many Customs and Border Protection programs have drug law enforcement as part of their mandate, including the Consolidated National Inspectional Anti-Terrorism Contraband Enforcement Team, the Passenger Enforcement Rover Team, the Manifest Review Unit, and the Passenger Analytical Unit (White House 2005).

57In general the US government has sought to conflate the issue of illegal drugs with national security, and to invest greater resources and dedicate a large part of its workforce to enforcing drug laws on the border. This level of investment has to be contrasted with the return. The return can be measured in terms of the availability of illegal drugs in the United States, their prices, and their purity. According to a report by the Office of Drug Control Policy, the availability of the five major drugs (cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, and marijuana) has generally experienced an upward trend. Moreover, although in certain years there are increases in the price of these drugs, the generally tendency is toward lower prices, signalling increased availability, with the exception of the street price of marijuana, which seems to vary more wildly than that of the other major drugs (White House 2004). The purity of the illegal drugs available is difficult to measure because purity obeys many factors, including availability and “cutting” (diluting the quantity with additives), but in general the trend is toward greater purity.

58The general lesson is that the enormous additional investment in anti-drug border security has not paid off. Almost all indicators show that illegal drugs continue to make their way across the border nearly unhindered by the new homeland security measures.

Illegal Immigration

59Statistics show that the number of undocumented border crossers detained in 2004 jumped higher even as the US government heightened its security measures along the border. Although Customs and Border Protection argued that the rise in detentions is due to better border security, some border-patrol agents believe that an increase in detentions more often reflects an increased number of undocumented crossers trying to enter the United States than a more effective interception and detention policy. Specifically, both the president of the National Border Patrol Council, T. J. Bonner, and Wayne Cornelius, of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies of the University of California at San Diego, have argued that after President Bush announced his support for a national guest-worker program the number of Mexicans who rushed to the border to take advantage of this opportunity went up, resulting in more arrests by the Border Patrol (Berestein 2006). Moreover, between 2000 and 2004 the number of arrests each year along the US-Mexico border remained at over one million (see table 8.4), a pattern that was likely maintained in 2005 and 2006. Every sector of the Border Patrol along the US-Mexico border has experienced an increase in the number of detentions of undocumented border crossers.

Table 8.4: Number of Arrests of Undocumented Border Crossers by the Border Patrol, 2000-04











Note: Final, reliable figures for the years 2005 and 2006 are not yet available.
Sources: Immigration and Naturalization Service. “Enforcement, Fiscal Year 2000.” 2000 Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (2001), and “Enforcement, Fiscal Year 2001.” 2001 Statistical Yearbook of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (2002); Office of Immigration Statistics, Department of Homeland Security. 2002 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (2003), 2003 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (2004), and 2004 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics (2005)

60Overall, the statistical evidence shows that the number of undocumented border crossers has not diminished since new homeland security measures went into effect, and perhaps as many as 500,000 of those who try in any given year are able to enter US cities throughout the country illegally. Instead, these measures have had three major effects on the border. First, they have increased the risks of slipping across the border for all undocumented workers. Beefed-up security on the US side of the border has not stopped undocumented border crossers from coming to the border. They have simply shifted their crossing locations to places that are less likely to be watched by the Border Patrol. This shift has led to an increase in the number of those crossing in the more dangerous parts of New Mexico and Arizona, and the consequent deaths of perhaps as many as 2,500 undocumented border crossers since 1994, hundreds of them in the Arizona desert every year (Eschbach, Hagan, and Rodríguez 2003).

Table 8.5: Number of Deaths of Undocumented Border Crossers, Fiscal Years 2000-05













Source: Congressional Research Service. Border Security: The Role of the US Border Patrol (2005)

61The second effect of the new measures is the concentration of the human-smuggling business in the hands of organized criminals. Because it is increasingly more difficult to cross the border alone with no previous knowledge of the terrain, criminal groups have taken advantage of the increased risk to monopolize human smuggling and turn it into an exceedingly profitable business, with potential earnings of up to several billion US dollars a year. Multiplying any of the arrest numbers from table 8.4 by the average price of US$ 2,000 paid by illegal migrants to a coyote (human smuggler) immediately reveals the billions of US dollars that can be made smuggling undocumented crossers toward the United States. Thus border crossers adjust by using the services of human smugglers as much as human smugglers adapt by charging higher fees, given the higher risks of getting caught.

Terrorism and the Border

62Part of the success of the new security measures, including increased patrolling of the border between the ports of entry, is the detention of an increased number of unauthorized immigrants, some of whom are presumed to have the intention of harming the United States. Since illegal immigration is now enmeshed with the rhetoric of border security, it is pertinent to ask whether the added efforts and costs of patrolling the border to control illegal immigration have resulted in a number of alleged terrorists being captured. A quick look through various Internet news sites shows hundreds of pieces claiming the capture of terrorists, or of “Arab-looking” men, trying to cross the border illegally into the United States. A good example is a piece from a right-wing British newspaper entitled “Arab Terrorists ‘Are Getting into the US over Mexican Border’” (Coleman 2004). Most of the websites that disseminate such claims tend to be vigilante, conservative or anti-immigrant, and very often tend to cite each other or the words of government law-enforcement officials complaining about homeland security and giving anecdotal or undocumented evidence. The reality is that not a single credible, apprehended unauthorized immigrant has been successfully labelled a terrorist. Since 9/11 there have been no credible claims that a terrorist has entered the United States across the Mexican border, even though nearly 50 percent of all apprehended unauthorized crossers are now “other than Mexicans” (also known as OTMs). Overall, the added security measures have not resulted in the detection of terrorist activity occurring on the US-Mexico border.


63Two important conclusions are drawn to answer the questions set out at the beginning of this chapter. First, border concerns have not gone away, despite the enormous investment that the US government has made to secure the border. Illegal drugs are still being brought across the border in sufficient amounts to satisfy the enormous market in the United States, illegal immigration continues unabated, and, although several hundred individuals have been detained as terrorist suspects, the definition of “terrorist” is, arguably, so broad that it may be doubted that most of these individuals truly intended to “hurt America.” The investment, therefore, has not necessarily paid off.

64The second, and perhaps more interesting, conclusion is that, although there was a slowdown in cross-border business during the weeks immediately following 9/11, business has returned to normal and, in fact, is experiencing a renewed era of growth. Although there were some new costs to complying with new US border-security requirements, these costs have been almost fully absorbed. In some ways the new measures have made it easier to cross the border. A quick glance at how long it takes to cross at the busiest southern ports of entry shows that the current times may be slightly lower than those that were standard before 9/11. More gates have been built, more designated commuter lanes have been created, and, as trucks and drivers begin to function within the C-TPAT system, their waiting times are coming down.

65All in all, agents along the border – legitimate and illegitimate, legal and criminal – have adjusted to the new structures. Businesses have complied with the new rules and absorbed the new costs, which in turn has helped a large number to take their merchandise across more efficiently under a new inspections regime. Shoppers and tourists have returned, putting pressure on the authorities to be even more efficient in checking border crossers. The government has responded by adding new designated commuter lanes, opening new crossing lanes, and hiring new inspection agents to expedite border crossings. Students have gone back to school under more stringent rules governing their student visas. Drug dealers have become more efficient smugglers by stepping up their efforts to corrupt agents and preparing better vehicles for smuggling. Human-smuggling chains have adjusted their prices and undocumented border crossers rely increasingly on them. The number of deaths has continued to increase under the new border-patrolling establishment. Terrorists have not found the border any more attractive than they found US airports of entry for entering the country.

66Thus the new normalcy of the border implies a new distribution of costs and of benefits, and a new order that requires all border crossers to adjust to the new structure and to place new demands on it. In this interplay the only result has been that costs are now higher for all players; that benefits have flowed both to the bureaucracy and to criminal agents; and that the border has a new normalcy.

67More work is needed to understand how the theoretical model of the border advanced in this chapter applies to the US-Mexico border. However, preliminarily, we see that the centralized decision-making of a government can severely affect the way in which border agents interact, although some areas are more deeply affected than others. Market flows have a staying power that allows a strong adaptation to a new system. Local political clout and autonomy, however, are more deeply affected, while culture is resilient for different reasons and is less affected by systemic changes, at least in the short term. Overall, change is gradual and any theoretical effort to understand what is happening on the US-Mexico border is welcome in a place where it is easy to lose sight of the historical trends when under the influence of short-sighted policies.



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Department of Political Science, University of Texas, El Paso, Texas, United States

University of Texas, El Paso, Texas, United States

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