What are other countries doing to secure their borders?


Israel uses a 15-foot-tall steel mesh barbed wire fence with sensors and cameras and incarcerates aliens who are caught entering Israel without inspection.

For approximately 30 years, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak ruled the vast Sinai desert adjacent to Israel, and he respected the peace treaty that Israel and Egypt had signed in 1979.[i] In 2011, he was unseated in a coup.[ii] Without Mubarak’s control, the Sinai desert became a lawless expanse of land. This meant that Israel would have to protect itself against the threat of jihadist terror emanating from the Sinai desert in addition to dealing with immigrants crossing the desert to make an illegal entry into Israel. Israel built a 15-foot-tall steel mesh fence across the 165-mile border between Israel and Egypt. They armed the fence with sensors and cameras and topped it with barbed wire. According to estimates released in July of 2013 by the Israeli government, only 34 people were caught entering Israel illegally along that border in the first half of 2013, compared to nearly 10,000 people in the first six months of 2012. This was a decrease of more than 99 percent.[iii] Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented with respect to this section of Israel’s border that, “The fence has completely stopped illegal migration to Israel.”[iv]

Other countries, including the United States, have recognized the effectiveness of Israel’s border security methods. U.S. Customs and Border Protection[v] recently contracted with the Israeli company Elbit Systems[vi] for the installation of fifty fixed towers equipped with cameras, radar, and sensors on the border between Arizona and Mexico.[vii] Elbit System’s work in Israel includes the border fence between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which has resulted in a dramatic drop in terrorist acts against Israel. The company also provided multi-sensor surveillance systems on the border with Egypt.[viii]

The fence is only one of the deterrents that the Israeli government uses to discourage migrants from making illegal entries. In December of 2013, the Knesset (the legislative branch of the Israeli government) passed an amendment to the Law to Prevent Infiltration. The amendment permits detention without trial for up to a year for asylum-seekers who enter Israel illegally. This only applies to migrants who enter the country after the effective date of the amendment. Migrants who entered illegally before the effective date, however, can be placed in an open detention center run by the Israel Prison Service. These detainees will be banned from working in Israel, except for work they do at the facility. The Israeli government will provide them with an allowance, room and board, and health care.[ix] In the absence of this amendment, the Law to Prevent Infiltration would not have provisions that deal specifically with asylum seekers.[x]

Aliens who enter the United States without inspection are subject to criminal charges too. An alien who has made only one entry without inspection is subject to imprisonment for not more than six months; subsequent offenses are subject to imprisonment for up to two years.[xi] Aliens who face such criminal charges are entitled to a trial in Federal District Court, but the ones who have made more than one entry first have to decide whether to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, which can be part of a plea agreement to avoid a lengthy prison sentence, or to have a full trial on a felony charge and risk a large fine and/or a sentence of up to two years in prison. Describing the speed with which such cases are handled in his court, Magistrate Judge Bernardo P. Velasco said that one afternoon he conducted trials for 70 aliens who had been caught entering the United States without inspection. The defendants had roughly 25 seconds to hear their charges, enter a plea, and receive a sentence if they plead guilty.[xii]

South Africa uses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), soldiers, and razor fences to protect its borders; and it subjects employers who are convicted of knowingly hiring undocumented foreigners to imprisonment for up to three years.

South Africa has a 3,022.4-mile land border that it shares with six other countries --Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, and Swaziland. It also has a maritime border that is 2,236.9 miles long and approximately 1,200 airfields, airstrips, and airports. During its apartheid era, South African guarded its land border with electric razor fences that were patrolled by the South African National Defense Force[xiii] (SANDF) and auxiliary civilian commando units. In the post-apartheid era, South African President Thabo Mbeki’s ordered the South African Police Service (SAPS) to take over the border patrolling functions of SANDF. SAPS, however, was not able to keep the border secure, so the SANDF patrols were resumed. The government plans to have fifteen SANDF companies deployed along the country’s land, maritime, and air borders by 2015. Apartheid-era razor fences are being used again too.[xiv]

The South Africa government also has tried to eliminate the “job magnet” that draws undocumented foreigners to South Africa. Employers are prohibited from hiring foreigners who do not have work authorization. They are expected to check the status or citizenship of their employees to make sure that they do not employ undocumented foreigners. If a foreigner without work authorization is found on any business premises, the law presumes that he is employed by the business and the operator of the business has the burden of proving otherwise. If an employment relationship with an undocumented foreigner is proven by means other than the legal presumption, there is a presumption that the employer knew the foreigner’s status unless he can prove that he employed the person in good faith and made a good faith effort to ascertain the employee’s legal status. Employers who knowingly hire an undocumented immigrant have committed an offense, and, if convicted, are subject to a fine or imprisonment for up to one year. A second conviction is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for up to two years. A third conviction is subject to imprisonment for up to three years without the option of a fine.[xv]

South Africa has experienced an increase in illegal entry of political asylum seekers and economic refugees. The country also has to contend with the illegal entry of drug smugglers, human traffickers, rhino poachers, and dealers in unlawful firearms – among other cross border criminals. South Africa is a major hub for drug trafficking in southern Africa and for drugs that are shipped to other countries. The government has responded by increasing the number of soldiers at the border. Skeptics worry that the deployment of additional troops may not work. Such security forces tend to be prone to corruption. If soldiers take bribes to let people or contraband through, the additional troop deployments will not help. South Africa also has experienced a problem with fraudulent documents. The government has increased the security of South African passports by using tamper-proof high-tech security features, and it has enacted tough laws to discourage criminal organizations from trading in fraudulent documents.[xvi]

South Africa began using UAVs in the mid-1980s. According to South African arms manufacturer Denel Dynamics,[xvii] its Seeker drone series was the first unmanned airplane in the world to be cleared for operations in controlled airspace when it was deployed to monitor potential hotspots during South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. Denel presently is developing a new UAV for border security. It can stay air born for as long as 16 hours at heights of up to 18,000 feet, and at an altitude of only 3,280 feet, it is barely audible to people on the ground. It can carry two different payloads such as electro-optical equipment and a digital video system, and the loads can be changed in the field, allowing it to adapt to different tactical situations.[xviii]

Australia uses an integrated national security strategy commanded by a senior military officer instead of by a bureaucratic civilian organization.

Australia’s key border security initiative is Operation Sovereign Borders, which is based in part on the premise that Australia’s border security crisis is a national emergency of such great scale that it cannot be managed by inter-departmental committees and working groups under bureaucratic control. It requires the discipline and focus of a targeted military operation under a single ministerial commander who draws together all of the necessary government resources. Accordingly, a senior military officer was selected. Operation Sovereign Borders is supported by the following four operational task forces, each executing its own specific action plan:

  1. Disruption and Deterrence Task Group – led by the Australian Federal Police;
  2. Detection, Interception and Transfer Task Group – led by the Border Protection Command of the Customs and Border Protection Service;
  3. Offshore Detention and Assessment Task Group – led by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship; and a
  4. Return, Remove, Resettle Task Group – led by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.[xix]

According to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, Operation Sovereign Borders has succeeded in implementing its first two phases - 100 days of a reduction in illegal arrivals and 100 days without any arrivals. The focus now will be on dealing with the 30,000 asylum applicants who are being held in immigration detention. Their asylum applications need to be processed and those who are not found to be refugees must be returned to their own countries.[xx] Further details about Australia’s border security plans can be found in the Customs and Border Protection Service’s “Blueprint for Reform 2013-2018.”[xxi]

Australia continues to make improvements in its border security operations. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced that the government of Australia will purchase US Navy MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicles to secure Australia's borders. Northrop Grumman, headquartered in Falls Church, Virginia, manufactures the Triton.[xxii]

Australia also has enacted sanctions for employing foreign workers who do not have work authorization. This includes both civil and criminal penalties. The criminal penalties range from imprisonment for up to two years to imprisonment for up to five years if the employer’s conviction is for an aggravated criminal offense. To facilitate the task of identifying foreign workers who do have work authorization, the government provides an online service for checking whether non-citizens are authorized to work, which is known as “Visa Entitlement Verification Online” (VEVO).[xxiii]

Rapid response team deployed along the Somalia-Kenya border.

In 2007, in response to the resurgence of armed conflict in Somalia and in fear of a spill over of the conflict into Kenya, the government decided to close the border. Despite the border closure, Somali nationals seeking asylum in Kenya have continued to make illegal entries across Kenya’s 484.67-mile-long border, which is porous and lacks border control outposts. On November 10, 2013, in an effort to address this problem, the governments of Kenya and the Federal Republic of Somalia in conjunction with the UN Refugee Agency[xxiv] (UNHCR) signed a tripartite agreement for the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees. Rufus Karanja, the Advocacy Program Officer at the Refugee Consortium of Kenya,[xxv] has asked the Government of Kenya to reopen the Kenya-Somali border to ease repatriation of Somali returnees.[xxvi]

Notwithstanding its efforts to secure the border, Kenya remains receptive to the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. In fact, the UNHCR relies on Kenya’s willingness to help asylum-seekers and refugees. This includes effective reception, registration, documentation and refugee status determination; land for approximately 530,000 refugees and asylum-seekers across six camps; strengthened police presence in the camps; access to public health services for more than 50,000 urban refugees and medical referrals from the camps; and integration of approximately 8,000 urban-based refugee children and adolescents into local schools.[xxvii]

Closing the border has not prevented terrorist strikes from Somali militants. On September 21, 2013, Somali militants from Al-Shabaab[xxviii] massacred 67 people at a mall in Nairobi.[xxix] Roughly a month later, the Government of Kenya deployed a rapid response team to secure the closed border area next to Somalia, but this has not succeeded in stopping illegal crossings. Unguarded areas still are available for illegal crossings; roads know as "rat routes" can be used. These are paths hacked out of the undergrowth that smugglers use to cross back and forth between Kenya and Somalia undetected. The rat routes end in Kenya at the world's largest refugee camp where they can hide in plain sight among the refugees. From there, they can pass through government checkpoints with other undocumented migrants and then go deeper into Kenya.[xxx] Kenya also is having difficulty with fraudulent documents, such as fake Kenyan IDs, which are available for only $230.[xxxi]

The United States has had a similar problem. As border security has heightened in the past 18 years, the flow of migrants, mostly guided by smugglers, has shifted away from major crossing points to more remote and dangerous desert terrains. Death is common in the desert. Smugglers often leave immigrants stranded in the desert. Seventy migrants have died in the Arizona desert during the first five months of 2013; there were 100 deaths at the same time last year.[xxxii] This is why it is necessary to secure the entire length of the border, not just the areas that experience the highest traffic. The aliens can avoid the secured sections by going around them or using remote areas like the Arizona desert.

The situation has gotten so dangerous at the border between Kenya and Somali, that the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all but essential travel to areas within 37.2 miles of the Kenya-Somali border to avoid a high threat from terrorism, including kidnapping.[xxxiii]

Despite the use of concertina wire fences and rubber bullets, Spain is being overwhelmed by waves of African migrants.

Each year, hundreds of African migrants from as far south as Gabon cross the perilous Sahara desert to reach Europe through Spain. Others cross the Mediterranean on overcrowded boats to reach Spain’s beaches. It is estimated that as many as 1,700 African migrants have been able to reach Spanish soil by charging the fences at Ceuta and Melilla in organized groups so far this year – an almost double increase from the estimated 1,000 who succeeded in 2013.

On March 18, approximately 500 migrants successfully made it over the razor-wire fence in a single massive assault to reach the other side. Days before the March 18 incident, Spanish and Moroccan police reportedly beat men and women in an attempt to hold back about 200 migrants from climbing over a section of fence at Melilla. This incident reminded people of the tragedy that took place in Ceuta on February 6th when 15 migrants drowned after a massive crowd jumped into the water when Spanish police began firing rubber bullets at them to keep them from storming a border crossing. The European Commission and the Council of Europe have criticized Spanish law enforcement authorities for the manner in which they tried to repel them. The Spanish interior minister has said that authorities will set up wire mesh barriers around the razor-wire border in an effort to keep the migrants from getting near the fence. The latest mass incursion occurred at dawn on March 28th when approximately 800 migrants split into two groups and tried to climb the fences at Melilla before Spanish and Moroccan law enforcement authorities could stop them. Only about a dozen succeeded. Citing intelligence reports, officials in Madrid say that as many as 40,000 people are still waiting on the Moroccan side to launch more massive assaults in the coming weeks.

Once they are in Spanish territory, the migrants are taken to temporary holding centers where they receive needed medical assistance. Most of the migrants who reach Spanish soil will be able to remain in Europe. Loopholes in Spanish law permit most of them to be released after a 30-day period at temporary detention centers.[xxxiv] Most of them cannot be deported in any event because Spain does not have treaties with the countries they come from.[xxxv]

[i] Israel-Egypt Relations: Overview of Bilateral Cooperation. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Politics/relate_egypt.html

[ii] “Egyptian Revolution of 2011.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_Revolution_of_2011

[iii] “Israel built a new border wall to prevent migrants from 'smuggling in terror'” (Dec. 5, 2013). http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/131204/israel-new-border-wall-egypt-terrorism-immigration-project-hourglass

[iv]> “Does a Border Fence Work? Check Out the Dramatic Change After Israel Put One Up” (Nov. 11, 2013). http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/11/11/does-a-border-fence-work-check-out-the-dramatic-change-after-israel-put-one-up/#

[v]U.S. Customs and Border Protection. http://www.cbp.gov

[vi] Elbit Systems. https://www.elbitsystems.com/elbitmain/

[vii] “CBP takes another stab at high-tech border security” (Apr. 4, 2014). http://www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/dr20140404-cbp-takes-another-stab-at-hightech-border-security

[viii] “CBP awards $145 million border towers contract to Elbit” (Mar. 6, 2014). http://www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/dr20140306-cbp-awards-145-million-border-towers-contract-to-elbit

[ix] “Knesset approves anti-infiltration bill” (Dec. 10, 2013). http://www.knesset.gov.il/spokesman/eng/PR_eng.asp?PRID=11011

[x] National Program to Meet the Problem of Infiltrators and Asylum Seekers Entering Israel across the Egyptian Border (Jan. 25, 2011). http://www.knesset.gov.il/mmm/data/pdf/me02765.pdf

[xi] Sec. 275 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1325. http://www.uscis.gov/iframe/ilink/docView/SLB/HTML/SLB/act.html

[xii] “Detainees Sentenced in Seconds in ‘Streamline’ Justice on Border” (Feb. 11, 2014). http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/12/us/split-second-justice-as-us-cracks-down-on-border-crossers.html?_r=0

[xiii] Republic of South Africa Department of Defense. http://www.dod.mil.za

[xiv] Library of Congress, Citizenship Pathways and Border Protection: South Africa, Border Protection and Security. http://www.loc.gov/law/help/citizenship-pathways/southafrica.php#Border

[xv] Library of Congress, Citizenship Pathways and Border Protection: South Africa, Illegal Foreigners. http://www.loc.gov/law/help/citizenship-pathways/southafrica.php

[xvi] “South Africa is beefing up its border security against poachers and criminal networks” (Mar. 24, 2014). http://www.bordernewsnetwork.com/channels/global-roundup/south-africa-strengthens-border-security-against-poachers-and-criminals----but-with-costs/63

[xvii] Denel Dynamics. http://www.deneldynamics.co.za

[xviii] “Unmanned Systems Report: South Africa Develops New UAV for Border Security, Wildlife Protection” (Apr. 8, 2014). http://bordernewsnetwork.com/channels/technology/unmanned-systems-report:-south-africa-develops-new-uav-for-border-security,-wildlife-protection/80?utm_source=Border+News+Network+Weekly+Ops+Report&utm_campaign=9b9a788324-Weekly_Ops_Report_4_8_20144_8_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0bdfde2958-9b9a788324-156608093

[xix] “Operation Sovereign Borders” (July 2013). http://www.nationals.org.au/Portals/0/2013/policy/The%20Coalition’s%20Operation%20Sovereign%20Borders%20Policy.pdf

[xx] “Operation Sovereign Borders: Prime Minister Tony Abbott marks 100 days without an asylum seeker boat arrival” (Mar. 30, 2014). http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-29/pm-hails-100-days-without-an-asylum-seeker-boat-arrival/5354100

[xxi] Australian Customs and Border Protection Service, “Blueprint for Reform 2013-2018.” http://www.customs.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/ACBPS-Blueprint-for-Reform-2013-2018.pdf

[xxii] “Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announces that Australia will be buying US-made Triton UAVs for border surveillance.” (Mar. 13, 2014). http://bordernewsnetwork.com/channels/the-business-of-borders/australia-to-boost-border-capabilities-with-purchase-of-us-triton-uavs/53

[xxiii] Australian Government, Department of Immigration and Border Protection: Employing legal workers – A guide for businesses. https://www.immi.gov.au/managing-australias-borders/compliance/legalworkers/guideforbusiness.htm#penalty

[xxiv] UN Refugee Agency. http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home

[xxv] Refugee Consortium of Kenya. http://www.unhcr.org/48fdecaf20.html

[xxvi] Rufus Karanja, Advocacy Program Officer, Refugee Consortium of Kenya, “Call on Government of Kenya to Reopen the Kenya-Somali Border to Ease Repatriation of Somali Returnees” (Mar. 1, 2014). http://frlan.tumblr.com/post/78228511608/call-on-government-of-kenya-to-reopen-the-kenya-somali

[xxvii] The U.N. Refugee Agency, 2014 UNHCR country operations profile – Kenya. http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e483a16.html

[xxviii] Al-Shabaab is thought to be a terror network that is an al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia. “Al-Shabaab militants attack Somali presidential palace in Mogadishu” (Feb. 21, 2014). http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/21/world/africa/somalia-attack/index.html?iref=allsearch

[xxix] “Terror in Westgate mall: the full story of the attacks that devastated Kenya” (Oct. 4, 2013). http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/oct/04/westgate-mall-attacks-kenya-terror#undefined

[xxx] “Exposing smuggler routes across the Somalia-Kenya border” (Nov. 18, 2013). http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/18/world/africa/somalia-kenya-border-elbagir/

[xxxi] “Exposing smuggler routes across the Somalia-Kenya border” (Nov. 18, 2013). http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/18/world/africa/somalia-kenya-border-elbagir/index.html?iref=allsearch

[xxxii] “On Border, Signs of a Surge in Illegal Immigration” (May 31, 2013). http://tucson13.nytimes-institute.com/2013/05/31/on-border-signs-of-a-surge-in-illegal-immigration/

[xxxiii] Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Foreign Travel Advice on Kenya (Apr. 2, 2014). https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/kenya

[xxxiv] “Wave of African Migrants Overwhelms Spanish Officials” (April 1, 2014). http://bordernewsnetwork.com/channels/global-roundup/wave-of-african-migrants-overwhelms-spanish-officials/68

[xxxv] “As Africans Surge to Europe’s Door, Spain Locks Down” (Feb. 27, 2014). http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/28/world/europe/africans-battered-and-broke-surge-to-europes-door.html?_r=0

About The Author

Nolan Rappaport

Nolan Rappaport was an immigration counsel on the House Judiciary Committee. Prior to working on the Judiciary Committee, he wrote decisions for the Board of Immigration Appeals. He also has been a policy advisor for the DHS Office of Information Sharing and Collaboration under a contract with TKC Communications, and he has spent time in private practice as an immigration lawyer at Steptoe & Johnson. He is retired now, but he welcomes part time and temporary work.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.