Secure Border Initiative failures

A project that I found interesting, which also has some relevance today, is the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Border Initiative (SBI). This was a multi-billion-dollar program dubbed the “virtual fence” which was started in November of 2005 and envisioned to secure U.S borders with Mexico. The project was cancelled by the Department of Homeland Security’s Janet Napolitano in January of 2011. The goal was to develop a comprehensive border protection virtual system by creating technology security infrastructure, surveillance and communication technologies aimed at reducing migration along the 2,000 miles southwest border with the U.S and Mexico. This $7.6 Billion dollar failed project’s main contractor was Boeing and the project was overseen by the U.S Government’s Accountability Office (GAO).

The key challenges on this virtual border were many, but among them, the software bugs were numerous and implementation of the actual project was extremely slow. The sensors and alarms, the cornerstone of the virtual system were also easily affected by the elements and the border patrol agents were not trained to use this new SBI technology effectively. Additionally, costs were increasingly rising and it continued to miss the target delivery dates. By estimates, 5 years into the project, over a billion dollars had been spent but only 50 miles of the border had been covered.

The main takeaways from this failed project mirror those of the problems faced with the implementation of, mainly the strained relationship and cooperation between government and industry. There was not clear communication from the onset between DHS and Boeing on expectations of: deadlines and deployments, but also there was a lack of understanding on the technologies capabilities that were to be delivered.

On a larger scale, as a policy, I think it is relevant today because the reason this virtual fence or even a currently proposed physical fence can be an unrealistic ideal to implement a immigration policy is because there is a false correlation with closing borders and efficiency in immigration control. There is no one size fits all for immigration control and enforcement, and border security control, and virtual and physical fences do not work if they are not coupled with other reforms to the immigration system, such as economic solutions on both sides of the border to address causes of migration among other factors.

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