Secure Border Initiative: Components and Technologies Utilized

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As the world’s biggest economy and a land full of opportunities, the United States of America has been the dream destination for many people who seek economic empowerment.

As a result of this, the US is home to millions of illegal immigrants with thousands more continuing to seek ways to enter the country. The US-Mexico border has been the biggest conduit for illegal immigrants with an estimated 6million of the 13 million illegal aliens in the US, being Mexican (Suarez-Orozco & Paez, 2008).

While the US border policies were fairly lenient in pre 9-11 America, the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US induced fundamental changes in U.S. border enforcement policy and from then, the Southern border is scrutinized as a potential point of entry for terrorists.

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Concerns about illegal immigration have resulted in the budget and manpower allocated to the United States Border Patrol (USBP) more than tripling in the last decade (Nunez-Neto & Vina, 2005). The main focus has been the detection, deterrence and apprehension of aliens as they attempt to cross the border into the US.

The need to invest in more “military proven” technology to protect the US border became necessary and hence the inception of the Secure Border Initiative. The Secure Border Initiative is based on the premise that the key to controlling the immigration problem that currently plagues the US is to close off all non-ports of entry points.

This paper will set out to discuss the Secure Border Initiative (SBI) program, the technologies that this program utilizes and what the SBI program entails. The paper will also discuss the significance of SBI and the future of this program which promises to provide the ultimate solution to the US border problem.

Secure Border Initiative (SBI) program

The primary challenge in securing the US borders is the sheer magnitude of the international borders. Between ports of entry, there is about 500miles of border that has to be managed and controlled. While this in itself is a daunting task, the fact that the border stretches over a wide range of terrain, climate and remoteness further complicates the issue for Border Patrol agents who seek to detect illegal incursions (Andreas, 2009).

Technology that purports to give Border Patrol agents an advantage in the face of these challenges has traditionally been sought and utilized. Surveillance asserts have been utilized with changes being made to improve efficiency and effectiveness. The first major program implemented with the goal of securing a section of the US border was the Integrated Surveillance Information System.

This program was later renamed America’s Shield Initiative (ASI). ASI integrated RVS camera systems, sensors, and a multi-faceted network which was capable of detecting illegal entries. While ASI was a major advancement from ISIS, it still lacked the capacity to facilitate effective border protection and hence the need for a more capable program, the SBI.

In November 2005, the Department of Homeland Security announced the launch of the Secure Border Initiative. This was to be a multibillion dollar program spanning for multiple years that was aimed at securing the US borders against illegal immigrants.

The SBInet is the name given to the physical and virtual border fence which is meant to boast an integrated system of personnel, infrastructure, technology and rapid response units to secure the entire US land borders.

The rationale behind the implementation of SBInet is that while increasing the number of agents at the border is a good step in the curbing of illegal immigration, these agents must be armed with the technology required to make their efforts effective.

The prime contract for SBInet development was awarded in 2006 to Boeing Company. As the prime contractor, Boeing has an extensive involvement with the program and is responsible for acquiring and deploying the necessary technology for the SBInet program. Stana (2009) reveals that the CBP contract with Boeing is performance based and the primary contractor has to fulfill a set of requirements for the project.

SBInet capabilities are deployed in “blocks” which are defined as phases of an effort to “design, develop and integrate, test, and deploy a technology system of hardware, software and communication” (Stana, 2009, p.7). Each block may span a number of states and subsequent blocks build on the successes of the previously implemented blocks.

What the SBI Program Entails

As a result of its broad mission, SBI assumes control over a huge part of the immigration control apparatus. The SBI program has a three-pillar approach to tackling the boarder security problem. These three components of the SBI as articulated by the DHS are “controlling the border, building a robust interior enforcement program, and establishing a Temporary Worker Program” (Haddal, 2010, p.9).

To achieve the goal of effective control of the borders, SBInet was created. SBInet provides U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) with the resources and capabilities that are needed to achieve a comprehensive operational awareness of the border (Kirk & Teufel, 2007).

SBInet has resulted in the comprehensive and systemic upgrading of legacy technologies that were used to control the border. Next generation detection systems and Commercial off-the-shelf technology are used to enhance border security. Haddal (2010, p.8) hails the Secure Border Initiative as the “most important technology used by the Border Patrol”.

The second goal of SBI program which is to build a robust interior enforcement program comes from the acknowledgment that border security entails the enforcement of immigration laws within the country’s borders. This ensures the integrity of the legal immigration system and provides the means through which to detect and intercept threats that may exist to the US.

As part of this effort, the SBI has implemented self-compliance programs that provide a partnership between the government and businesses. This is from the realization that Illegal immigrants in the country end up working for employers in the US.

To strengthen interior enforcement Employers are required to comply with legal hiring requirements so as to detect unauthorized workers who may turn out to be illegal immigrants (Andreas, 2009). Through the Criminal Alien Program, the DHS is removing incarcerated criminal aliens from US soil and returning them to their country of origin.

The third goal which is to establish a Temporary Worker Program is yet to be realized. The temporary-worker program was envisioned as a program that would allow non-US citizens to access jobs for a limited period of time under the sponsorship of U.S. employers.

This program would serve the dual purpose of giving U.S. workers priority over guest workers while at the same time managing the illegal immigrant issue in the US by enabling undocumented immigrants to obtain work legally.

The goal of the SBInet is to have operational control in both the Northern and Southern borders within a defined timeline. The SBI was initially proposed to focus on the Southwest land border between the official channels of entry so as to cover the paths that illegal immigrants might use.

This bias given to the Southwest Border region is based on the fact that in the past decade, 97% of all apprehensions on illegal immigrants have been made along the Southwest Border (Haddal, 2010).

A strategy employed by Border Patrol under the SBI is to increase the number of agents deployed in traditional urban routes. This in effect forces the illegal border traffic to reroute to less populated and geographically harsher regions which gives the Boarder Patrol agents tactical advantages as they have more time to move in and arrest the illegal aliens before they cross over (Haddal, 2010).

While this strategy has been effective in pushing unauthorized migration from population centers to more remote regions, the policy has resulted in an increase in the number of fatalities along the border. As illegal immigrants attempt to cross over the Arizona Desert with limited water supplies, fatalities occur due to the inhospitable conditions of the desert.

SBI also aims to prevent illegal entries through deterrence measures. In the past, arresting illegal immigrants was used as the main method to curb illegal entry. The need for more effective methods to secure the Southwest Border was identified following a 1993 study commissioned by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

This study indicated that the particular border was being overrun with up to 6,000 illegal immigrants making attempts to enter the US every night (Nunez-Neto, 2005). From this study, it was recommended that focus be changed from arresting illegal immigrants to preventing their entry. SBI provides Border Patrol with the resources to deter immigrants from making it to the US side of the border.

Technologies Used

SBInet acts as the platform through which an array of surveillance technologies are acquired, developed, integrated, and deployed appropriately. SBInet program makes use of C3I technologies which are; command, control, communications and intelligence (Stana, 2009).

The C3I technologies include software and hardware capabilities that provided a Common Operational Picture (COP) which is “a uniform presentation of activities within specific areas along the borders (Stana, 2009, p.6). As such, the sensors, radars and cameras gather information along the border and this information is transmitted to the COP terminals which are contained within command centers.

This provides the CBP agents with situational awareness since they can view data from the available radars and sensors that detect and track movement along the border lines. Efficiency is improved since operators can control cameras to zoom in on areas of interest and identify and classify the illegal entries.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are another technology utilized by SBInet. UAVs have revolutionized airborne sensor by providing a means of carrying out long surveillance flights in a reliable manner. Worch (2007) reveals that UAVs have been valuable in border patrol missions by tracking and enhancing the eventual capture of border crossing intruders.

The SBI program also includes the deploying of reinforced fencing along the southwest border. This project was commissioned under the Secure Fence Act of 2006 which required the DHS to engage in construction of at least 700 miles of reinforced fencing.

These fences would be erected in regions where they are most practical and effective and provide for the installation of additional physical barriers. These physical barriers include; roads, lighting, and cameras that give Border Patrol agents operational control on the US-Mexican borders.

A novel technology utilized by SBInet is the Mobile Surveillance System (MSS) which is a Patrol truck equipped with radar, sensors and cameras. The MSS has a range of 10miles radius giving Border Patrol agents an edge over illegal immigrants. MSSs increase the operational capabilities of the Border Patrol therefore making them more efficient.

Using their superior technological capabilities, MSS radar helps agents detect movement and the cameras lock in on the area of interest (Paul, 2010). The Border Patrol agents are able to tell how many people are involved in the border breach attempt and what they are carrying.

Deployment of Border Patrol agents to contain the situation then follows. Stana (2009) reveals that MSSs enhance tactical decision making by agents regarding the appropriate response to apprehend an entry.

New SBInet technology also includes high resolution video cameras that provide continuous monitoring of the border. Kirk and Teufel (2007) reveal that when an agent receives an alert from a triggered sensor, the video surveillance allows a Common Operational Picture (COP) operator to zoom in and identify the cause of the disturbance.

This is significant since it enables the Border Patrol agents to isolate significant events from accidental triggers such as those caused by animals.


While the protection of a border between nations is ideally the role of nations on both sides of the border, immigration control has been largely restricted to the U.S. side of the border (Andreas, 2009). The SBI program has been effective in reducing the number of illegal immigrants by closing off traditional transit rotes as well as increasing the number of apprehensions.

Through the increased surveillance capabilities that SBInet projects brings in, Border patrol agents are better equipped to apprehend and remove aliens from US soil.

Despite its successes, the SBInet Technology program has failed to meet the initial expectations. While the program was initially envisioned to be a comprehensive solution that would be deployed to the entire Southwest Border by the end of this year, the program has failed to deliver on its promise (Koulish, 2009).

The comprehensive “virtual fence” across the entire Southwest border that was to be delivered by SBInet has been downgraded to limited pilot capabilities on several Southwest border sections. Until SBInet is fully implemented, Border patrol agents will be forced to rely on legacy equipment such as cameras mounted on towers (Stana, 2009).

Nevertheless, implementation of SBI is still ongoing and setbacks are seen as temporal in nature as implementation of SBInet capabilities across the entire southwest borders continues.


This paper will set out to discuss the Secure Border Initiative program, its components of the program and the technologies utilized. It has been noted that SBI was necessitated by the escalation of the immigration problem on the US-Mexico borderline as well as the risk of terrorists entering into the US through the routes used by illegal immigrants.

The SBI has equipped Border Patrol agents with the technology necessary to better monitor the border and hence increasing their efficiency. This paper has demonstrate that the Secure Border Initiative is successful in that it is making it harder for illegal immigrants to move into the US by closing off the easier routes.

However, it has been noted that the implementation of the SBInet has not been flawless and there have been delays as well as failures to meet expectations by the program.

Nevertheless, the potential of the SBI has made policy makes continue to support the program implementation albeit in a phased manner. From this paper, it is evident that while the Virtual Fence which the SBI envisioned has not been fully realized, the completed blocks demonstrated the effectiveness of SBI in border protection.


Andreas, P. (2009). Border Games; Policing the U.S.-Mexico Divide, Second Edition. Cornell University Press.

Haddal, C.C. (2010). Border Security: The Role of the U.S. Border Patrol. Congressional Research Service.

Kirk, E. & Teufel, H. (2007). Privacy impact assessment for the SBInet Program. Congressional Research Service.

Koulish, R. (2009). Immigration and American democracy: subverting the rule of law. Taylor & Francis.

Nunez-Neto, B. (2005). Border Security: The Role of the U.S. Border Patrol. Congressional Research Service.

Nunez-Neto, B. & Vina, R. S. (2005). Border Security: Fences along the U.S. International Border. Congressional Research Service.

Paul, M. (2010). “Sensors and robots aim to bolster border security”. New Scientist, 02624079, Vol. 205, Issue 2742

Stana, R.M. (2009). Secure Border Initiative fence construction costs. USA: GAO.

Suarez-Orozco, M. & Paez, M. (2008). Latinos: Remaking America. University of California Press.

Worch, P.R. (2007). Technologies for Border Security. Military Technology –Miltech 2.

Categories: Decision Making


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