Europe currently faces a massive migrant and refugee influx not seen since World War II. Europeans have witnessed the flow of more than 1 million immigrants and have seen the tragedy of migrants losing their lives during the treacherous transits. Many nations are lessening their border security to more efficiently process migrants seeking refuge in the European Union (EU). This has led to the European outcry of “No Border, No Nation.”
The U.S. Coast Guard is on the front line of maritime migrant interdiction for the United States. As the political climate with Cuba has changed over the past year, for instance, we have seen record increases in Cuban migrants setting sail for the United States. Haiti also remains ripe for a potential mass exodus. The United States, now more than ever, faces the challenge of enforcing its own borders while effectively processing and caring for the increased levels of migrants seeking to find refuge here.
Our Coast Guard is employing new technologies for the interdiction of migrants and, more important, of non-compliant migrant vessels. New non-lethal rounds have been effective at stopping vessels, but also have led to smugglers capsizing during erratic maneuvers. Cuban migrants aware of the U.S. policy—commonly known as “wet foot, dry foot”—are becoming more aggressive in their tactics to avoid being boarded. We also are seeing more violence toward boarding teams, both while on board their vessels and even after being interdicted. Attempts to smuggle “weapons” on board cutters also is increasing. Boarding teams are encountering more migrants wielding machetes or concealing razor blades on their persons. These blades are used to self-inflict injuries, forcing the Coast Guard to medically evacuate the migrant to the United States, where they hope to increase their chance of remaining in the country.
Our crews’ endurance is particularly challenged during boarding operations, migrant interdictions, and pursuits, especially as more fast-response cutters replace the aging class of 110-foot patrol boats. While 154-foot cutters possess great speed and technologies to bring the fight to the smugglers, they are minimally manned and do not have the required bench strength to engage in long-term sustained operations. As fatigue sets in, there is a risk that routine checks of migrants may not be conducted thoroughly. Tasks such as simple frisks, interviews, and collecting documentation are critical. This is the first chance we have to identify potential terror suspects or criminals while they remain far offshore and pose little threat to our country. Making mistakes, even minor, at this critical juncture could pose catastrophic results.
The U.S. Coast Guard is beginning to recognize its shortfall in personnel on its main migrant interdiction platforms and has called on additional units to support the fast-response cutters during certain mission sets. This puts a strain on resources elsewhere, however. If a permanent long-term solution is not developed, the United States may not be able to effectively process large numbers of migrants at one time. To help avoid this the U.S. Coast Guard must:
• Conduct a thorough review and comprehensive overhaul of migrant protocols, including the use of new technology, crew sizes, and sustainability.
• Use social media to track migrant flow. Europe has seen great success in tracking the migrant flow through social media, especially as migrants often use platforms such as Facebook to communicate.
• Target migrant movements with aircraft. Aircraft sensor packages are becoming far more effective at identifying and tracking contacts, which reduces the need to have cutter assets at sea, searching and waiting.
• Focus more training at the Maritime Law Enforcement Academy on screening and searching techniques, including the detection of weapons and razor blades, using migrant-based scenarios.
• Cross-reference biometric data. Over the past decade, the United States has extensively expanded its biometric data to identify terrorists. Increased use of biometrics, combined with good interview techniques and electronic exploitation, will help us identify who is trying to enter our country illegally.
Our goal must be to more effectively identify groups of migrants about to set sail from their country of origin. After using aircraft to locate those vessels, we can then launch a cutter, with a well-rested and -equipped crew, to interdict and process the migrants. This approach is far more effective and cost-efficient than “cutting holes in the ocean”—looking for radar tracks within proximity of the cutter.
An adequately manned, well-trained Coast Guard that effectively uses new technology is essential to aggressively enforce and secure our nation’s borders. The United States can remain an open country and welcome all of those seeking a better way of life. As we are seeing across the EU, however, “No Border” enforcement can result in “No Nation.”