- - Saturday, October 18, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Over the past few months, Americans have witnessed the many threats the United States faces. It is my job as the chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee to help keep these threats out of the country. That is why securing our border is so important to me.

This summer, the American people saw a glimpse of what Texans have been witnessing for decades: our nation’s inability to stop people from coming across the southern border. The surge of unaccompanied children being led into the United States by coyotes and drug cartels highlighted one of our nation’s greatest weaknesses. If we cannot control who or what is coming into our country, how can we hope to keep the American people safe?

The potential for more sinister individuals to cross our borders is certainly on the radar of government officials. Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said, “Terrorist organizations could seek to leverage those same smuggling routes to move operatives with intent to cause grave harm to our citizens or even quite easily bring weapons of mass destruction into the United States.”

We must remain vigilant and we must also do more to protect ourselves from this threat. This will require the Department of Homeland Security to finally develop a comprehensive strategy to secure the border.

For more than 25 years, the federal government has increased border security resources only to see illegal crossings and criminal enterprises continue to operate by shifting to other less secure areas of the border. At last count, only 44 percent of the border was under “operational control” — an unacceptable outcome by any objective standard.



Today, the border is not secure, but it can be. It is my responsibility to ensure Secretary Jeh Johnson and the Department of Homeland Security are making real progress to gain operational control at the border. As such, I recently outlined my vision of a secure southern border.

Homeland Security needs a new approach to secure the border, one that emphasizes the smart application of resources, defined goals and quantifiable results to tangibly show that the border is secure. The No. 1 objective is to allow the Border Patrol to gain complete visibility of our borders. Once we identify the threat, we must have the ability to communicate it to law enforcement. Finally, we need the capabilities to quickly respond.

This can be done immediately by strategically deploying more technology and capabilities to close known gaps in our defenses and using these resources to develop better intelligence. My plan includes a sector-by-sector allocation of assets that will enable us to achieve Step 1: complete visibility.

In fact, this resource allocation has already begun. I previously traveled to Afghanistan and met with Gen. John Allen about securing Department of Defense surveillance assets proven to work on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border so they could be used on our borders once they were no longer needed overseas. Today we have five aerostats — tethered airships for surveillance — in the Rio Grande Valley and another 16 are available to the Homeland Security Department. However, more can and should be done.

Moreover, any plan to secure the border must also establish outcome-based means to measure security between and at ports of entry and along the maritime border. This data will facilitate a clearer vision of the effectiveness of the total border security effort and better resource allocation planning, and will answer the question: Is the border secure?

Earlier this month, Mr. Johnson delivered a speech in Washington, D.C. on the security of our southern border. I was disappointed to hear him double down on the belief that our border is more secure than ever. However, I am glad to know that Homeland Seccurity will finally be heeding my calls for a department-wide strategy with metrics and risk-based deployment of technology for intelligence gathering and surveillance at our borders.

The American people deserve to have secure borders. As we face new and growing threats to our national security, this administration needs the will and vision to make it happen. This is the constitutional role of the federal government, and we have an obligation to our citizens to make this a reality.

Michael McCaul, a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas, is chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.

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