A Note About “Operational Control” Along The United States Mexico Border

This year the President gave a speech on the southwest border about immigration. Some of the fact checks on the Presidents speech got caught up on the metric which said that the border fence was was complete. Here is our analysis:

ABC’s Political Punch has a piece up on the border security portion of the Presidents speech. The first fact they check is on the Presidents assertion that the border fence is complete:

1)“They wanted a fence,” the president said. “Well, that fence is now basically complete.”

ABC Fact Check:The president is referring to the fact that 649 miles of fencing have been completed out of 652 miles of fencing mandated by Congress. (Out of 1,969 miles of border with Mexico.) That is factually correct, according to a February 2011 study of the border by the Government Accountability Office.

This is all good so far, but then the fact checkers assert the following:

More to the point, the border remains quite porous.

The Border Patrol, per the GAO study, has achieved “varying levels of operational control for 873 of the nearly 2,000 southwest border miles at the end of fiscal year 2010…GAO’s preliminary analysis of the 873 border miles under operational control in 2010 showed that about 129 miles (15 percent) were classified as ‘controlled’ and the remaining 85 percent were classified as ‘managed.’”

Now this may get a bit wonky, but the above statement is somewhat misleading. Admittedly this is more of a nuance issue then anything else, but if you do not know what the actual definitions of “Operational Control” vs. “Managed” then the border does indeed sound porous, when it is in fact not…

So according to that same GAO Report, Operational Control is the highest level of control a border sector can have. To be under operational control, the sector must show: Continuous detection and interdiction resources at the immediate border with high probability of apprehension upon entry.

Not all sectors of the border need to be under operational control, certainly it would be desirable but not necessary to produce the results borne out in the FBI Crime Statistics which show that crime rates on the border are down to all time lows.

In fact digging a bit deeper here the big story should be, and this is what the president was referencing yesterday, that 85 percent of the border is managed. In unpacking the quote referenced in the ABC article this statistic points to the broader reality along the border, while not secure it is certainly safer then it has ever been.

A “Managed Border Sector” means that the sector is: multi-tiered detection and interdiction resources are in place to fully implement the border control strategy with high probability of apprehension after entry.

This definition is nearly exactly the same level classification as the Operational definition, but given that there are four lower classifications, and that the number of sectors under operational control have icreased both both full years President Obama has been in office, things are getting under control.

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