NEW ESSAY | Homeland Security as a Theory of Action: The Impact on U.S./Mexico Border Management

By Alan D. Bersin and Michael Huston

Anatomy of a RelationshipThe terrorist attack on 9/11 in effect closed America’s borders.  The drawbridges were raised, airports and seaports shut down and cross-border traffic at land ports of entry was reduced to a trickle.  Defense and security and enforcement became the exclusive orders of the day.

The U.S. reaction generally and particularly on the Southwest Border was understandable, though it remained more instinctive than considered.  We had experienced a new vulnerability in our “homeland,” a concept that seemed foreign, strange and distant before 9/11.  Reflexively we retreated behind our borders and hunkered down behind the boundaries of Fortress America.

It soon became evident that the costs of “hunker down security,” i.e. the impact of closing the borders, would deliver an unacceptable, catastrophically self-defeating blow to our economy.  The events of 9/11, accordingly, initiated a wrenching turn in the way Americans viewed globalization and the manner in which their government understood and practiced internal security and external defense.  Policymakers were compelled to formulate new theories of action and respond to a dramatically altered threat environment.  Specifically, policy makers grappled with the challenge of how to secure the homeland in a world that was increasingly borderless.  The evolving policy and operational results may be the lasting legacy of September 11, 2001.

This paper examines these developments from the perspective of the relationship between Mexico and the United States and their shared management of a common border.  Although the emergence of a U.S. homeland security doctrine has significantly affected all trade and travel to and from the United States, it has had special importance for and a distinctive impact on U.S. – Mexico bilateral relations.

The above text is an excerpt from the introduction to the essay. This essay is part one of our series “The Anatomy of a Relationship: A Collection of Essays on the Evolution of U.S.-Mexico Cooperation on Border Management.” 

Read the essay. 

Controversial nomination at Department of Homeland Security goes to Senate floor

500px-US_Department_of_Homeland_Security_Seal.svgThe Washington Post, 12/11/2013

President Obama’s nominee for the No. 2 spot at the Department of Homeland Security advanced to the full Senate for consideration after winning a vote Wednesday from a deeply divided Senate panel.

The Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee made a party-line decision after a Republican senator unsuccessfully sought a delay, in part by revealing previously undisclosed official findings of problems with a visa program the nominee administers.

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Obama’s pick to lead DHS suggests priority shift from immigration to national security

500px-US_Department_of_Homeland_Security_Seal.svgThe Washington Post, 10/18/2013

President Barack Obama’s selection of a former top Pentagon lawyer to head the Homeland Security Department suggests the agency will be stepping back from its preoccupation with immigration to focus more on protecting the nation from attack.

Jeh C. Johnson, if confirmed by the Senate, would replace Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who left the DHS last month to become president of the University of California system. Obama was expected to announce Johnson’s nomination Friday.

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HEARING: Border Security: Measuring the Progress and Addressing the Challenges


Former Wilson Center Fellow and Mexico Institute colleague David Shirk testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on border security issues.  The hearing, titled “Border Security: Measuring the Progress and Addressing the Challenges,” took place on Thursday, March 14, 2013 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Click HERE to watch a video of his testimony.

Op-ed: Mr. President, Tear Down This Wall

obamaBy Michael Dear, The New York Times, 3/10/2013

Nearly 700 miles of walls now separate the United States and Mexico. Would-be migrants still find ways over, under, through and around them. As a tool for controlling immigration to the United States, the border fortifications have been remarkably ill suited to the task. And yet these barriers are having a significant and lasting effect nonetheless: they are harming communities on both sides of the border.

We should tear them down before the damage becomes irreparable. After Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush instructed the Department of Homeland Security to prioritize the construction of fortifications along the Mexican border. The result has been an astonishing array of barriers across America’s southern frontier. The number of Border Patrol agents doubled in seven years to more than 21,000. And interior enforcement was expanded to identify, detain, prosecute and deport undocumented migrants.

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Janet Napolitano: Immigration ‘No. 1 priority’

Janet NapolitanoPolitico, 3/4/2013

Immigration reform is the “No. 1” legislative priority for the Department of Homeland Security this year, trumping cybersecurity issues, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Monday at a POLITICO Playbook breakfast. “…I would say, frankly, that our No. 1 priority in terms of legislation is immigration,” Napolitano told POLITICO’s Mike Allen at a breakfast marking the 10th anniversary of the agency. “It is high time for immigration reform.”

Napolitano appeared with the only other two secretaries to have led the department: former Homeland Security Secretaries Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge, in their only joint appearance marking the department’s anniversary. Napolitano also addressed reports that DHS has released immigrant detainees from detention centers as a cost-saving mechanism due to budget uncertainties tied to last week’s sequestration and other looming budget fights. Napolitano said that “several hundred” detainees were released — not “thousands,” as news reports from last week had indicated. She stressed that those moved from detention centers were low-risk.

With reform talk growing, what is a ‘secure’ U.S.-Mexico border?

Border fenceAssociated Press, 2/23/2013

Once, the barren mesas and shrub-covered canyons that extend east of the Pacific Ocean held the most popular routes for illegal immigrants heading into the U.S. Dozens at a time sprinted to waiting cars or a trolley stop in San Diego, passing border agents who were too busy herding others to give pause.

Now, 20 years after that onslaught, crossing would mean scaling two fences (one topped with coiled razor wire), passing a phalanx of agents and eluding cameras positioned to capture every incursion. The difference is like “a rocket ship and a horse and buggy,” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on a recent tour.

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