Slide courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security
With elections looming and ISIS on the move, there's been a lot of somewhat predictable talk of terrorists slipping into the country through our "sieve" of a southern border.
While President Obama looks the other way -- don't forget that part. Or... beckons to them in welcome, according to some. I'm waiting for the Ebola outbreak to become Obama's fault somehow. I mean, he's from Kenya, right?
Just kidding. But some shock jock out there will make that connection sooner or later. Someone probably already has.
Anyway, living so close to that sieve here in Tucson, I've been justifiably concerned. Are squads of terrorists hopping and cutting those border fences hell bent on beheading us in our beds one by one?
To find out, I contacted the office of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. A few hours later, I received a response from Carlos Lazo of the Office of Public Affairs.
He referred me to a presentation entitled "Border Security in the 21st Century" which was delivered on October 9 by Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson.
And in said presentation, Johnson stated the following:
In September, the public heard a claim that four individuals with suspected ties to terrorism in the Middle East had attempted to cross our southern border; far fewer know that, in fact, these four individuals were arrested, their supposed link to terrorism was thoroughly investigated and checked, and in the end amounted to a claim by the individuals themselves that they were members of the Kurdish Worker's Party -- an organization that is actually fighting against ISIL and defended Kurdish territory in Iraq. Nevertheless, these individuals have been arrested for unlawful entry, they are detained, and they will be deported.
Of course, this one case will not lay current claims to rest. It was, after all, recounted by a government official. And nobody trusts government officials anymore. Just ask all those government officials telling you not to trust government officials in their campaign ads designed to help them become... government officials.
But that story and some actual statistics from Johnson's presentation do seem to debunk many of the assertions being made by several political candidates.
That is, in fact, why the presentation was created.
"Not enough has been said publicly by our government -- in a clear, concise way -- about our border security efforts on behalf of the American people," Johnson asserts in the introduction.
"And, in the absence of facts, the American public is susceptible to claims that we have an open, "porous" border, through which unaccompanied minors and members of terrorist organizations such as ISIL may pass."
Here are some of those facts, copied -- verbatim -- from the press release featuring the entire slideshow.
• "In late June and July, millions of Americans saw the images of the processing centers filled with kids; far fewer Americans know that by early June the spike in illegal migration by unaccompanied kids turned the corner, and it's now in fact at its lowest number since January 2013."
• "Today's Border Patrol is itself one of the largest agencies of our government, with a budget of $3.5 billion, a total of 23,000 personnel, 20,833 border patrol agents and the largest-ever level of technology and equipment."
• "In the Fiscal Year 2000, we had 8,619 Border Patrol agents dedicated to the southwest border; in 2014 that number is 18,127 and growing."
• "If you include primary, secondary, tertiary and vehicle fence, today there is about 700 miles of total fence across the southwest border, compared to just 77 miles of fence in the year 2000 -- in 14 years we have built almost 10 times more fence across the southwest border."
• "In Fiscal Year 2000 we had just 29 miles of lighting along the southwest border; today we have 70 miles of lighting strategically placed where we have determined it is needed."
• "Fourteen years ago we had few, if any, underground sensors to detect illegal migration at the southwest border; today we have 11,863 of these devices."
• "In Fiscal Year 2000 the Border Patrol had 56 aircraft; today that number is 107. In Fiscal Year 2000 the Border Patrol had no unmanned aerial vehicles; today we have eight of these for surveillance of illegal activity over the southwest border."
• "In Fiscal Year 2000 the Border Patrol had just two boats to patrol the entire southwest border over waterways like the Rio Grande; today we have 84."
• "In Fiscal Year 2000 the Border Patrol had one mobile surveillance system; today we have 40. In Fiscal Year 2000 we had little if any mobile video surveillance capability; today we have 178 of these. In Fiscal Year 2000 we had 140 remote video surveillance systems; today we have 273 of these."
• "Today the Border Patrol has the largest deployment of people, vehicles, aircraft, boats and equipment along the southwest border in its 90-year history."
The result, according to Johnson, is that "illegal migration into this country has dropped...from over 1.6 million in 2000 to around 400,000 a year in recent years," the lowest it has been since the 1970s.
Slide courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security
Will that make folks like Senator Lindsey "Oh, my Lord, they're coming to kill us all" Graham rest any easier? Of course not. And many of his fellow Republicans will continue to insist that there are ISIS operatives scuttling through the Arizona desert even as they speak.
But for those of you looking for a few facts to fling into your next dinner table debate -- you're welcome. Do with them what you will.
I, myself, have decided my current home security system -- two really yappy Pomeranians who could hear an ant break wind apparently -- will do for now.