Why Did Obama Shut Down a Successful Aerial Surveillance Program along the U.S.-Mexican Border?
Operation Phalanx may have worked too well for the administration’s tastes.
President-elect Donald Trump has made the construction of physical barriers along the border with Mexico, immigration reform and the dissolution of sanctuary cities the cornerstone of his campaign but it appears that in its twilight weeks of office, the Obama administration is intent on making that lofty goal as difficult as possible. According to the government oversight group Watchdog.org, the Department of Homeland Security has recently and inexplicably shut down Operation Phalanx, an aerial surveillance program established in 2010 which aimed to interdict drug trafficking and illegal immigration along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Phalanx authorized the allocation of 1,200 soldiers and airmen from the U.S. Army’s National Guard to assist U.S. customs and border patrol agents along the border. The program also employed advanced UH-72 helicopters to supplement other aerial surveillance platforms.
The move to terminate the project is in line with the Obama administration’s lackadaisical approach to illegal immigration and serves to underscore attempts by the administration to make the transition more difficult for the President-elect. In February 2016, the Obama administration cut funding to Operation Phalanx by 50 percent even though the project had been fully funded by Congress and was by all accounts, demonstrably successful.
But therein lies the problem. Operation Phalanx may have been too successful for the administration’s tastes. According to Watchdog.org, in the Laredo sector alone, “Operation Phalanx accounted for 10,559 apprehensions and 4,007 ‘turnbacks’ from March 2012 to December 2015. Phalanx was credited with seizing 12,851 pounds of narcotics during the period.”
While the Obama administration authorized Operation Phalanx, one cannot discount the possibility that the establishment of Phalanx was designed to placate Congress rather than to address a serious border problem. Once realizing that the project was showing positive results and making a dent, albeit a miniscule one, on illegal activities on the border, the administration decided to terminate Phalanx.
Already, the DHS announcement to terminate Phalanx has been met with fierce bipartisan criticism. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, has promised to challenge the DHS action claiming that the project was “fully funded” for 2017. He plans to enlist the support of other congressional lawmakers including Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Reps. Mike McCaul, R-San Antonio, and John Carter, R-Round Rock.
Led by their chief executive, there appears to be a deliberate and concerted effort on the part of most Democratic lawmakers to subvert any attempt to enforce the rule of law along the U.S.-Mexican border and remove sanctuary cities – the asinine practice of shielding undocumented immigrants from federal enforcement. The tragic case of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, murdered by a multiple deportee and illegal immigrant with a lengthy felony rap sheet underscores this point. Following her murder, congressional efforts to redress some of the most absurd and egregious practices adopted by sanctuary cities in shielding felonious illegals have been stymied by the administration’s allies.
Kate’s Law, a bill that would mandate minimum prison sentences for returning deportees and would revoke federal grants to cities that failed to comply with federal law in detaining illegals, failed to garner the requisite 60 Senate votes required to move the bill along for presidential approval. Even if it had garnered the requisite number, it is a virtual certainty that Obama would have vetoed the bill.
The termination of Operation Phalanx and subversion of Kate’s Law must be viewed in the wider context as part of a continuous and concerted effort on the part of the Obama administration to undermine the rule of law. Phalanx was showing results and therefore had to be stopped even though the requisite funds for the project had already been appropriated. Kate’s Law would have brought some order to disorder and was therefore viewed as dangerous by many Democratic lawmakers.
Any serious effort to implement immigration reform must begin with the construction of a barrier along the U.S.-Mexican border. The U.S. can model its effort based on the experience of other nations that faced and rectified similar infiltration problems.
Israel has erected a sophisticated barrier along its border with Egypt to thwart the flow of illegal African infiltrators and drug smugglers. A similar barrier was erected in central Israel to prevent Arab terrorist infiltration. Utilizing a network of concrete walls, razor wire, watchtowers, electrified fencing, electronic sensors and other forms of sophisticated surveillance equipment, the Israelis have managed to completely thwart illegal infiltration and have frustrated efforts by Palestinian terrorists to launch attacks.
The 2,000 mile stretch of border between the U.S. and Mexico is dangerously vulnerable and eight years of deliberate neglect by the Obama administration has not helped matters. If Trump is serious about addressing this clear and present danger – and it appears that he is – he should look to Israel for some advice.