Guest Column

Montana Knows That if You Want to Secure Our Communities, You Better Start with the Border

We need to understand that without border security, every town becomes a border town, every state becomes a border state

By Chris T. Clem, Jesse L. Ramos & Austin Knudsen

In just one day, over 16 million people watched a video of migrants rushing past the Texas National Guard in El Paso, Texas. This video exemplified the absolute chaos at the southern border. It also exemplified the disparity between Biden’s rhetoric regarding border security –during recent speeches, such as his SOTU address – versus the actual reality on the ground.   

The reality is that our border is so overwhelmed by migrants claiming humanitarian relief that our officers spend most of their time processing them. Border Patrol agents didn’t sign up to do asylum paperwork – they signed up to protect us.    

And because they can’t, about 1.8 million southern border crossers have evaded apprehension since President Biden took office. We don’t know anything about these people except that they want to avoid detection. Are they all bad? Unlikely. Are some violent criminals? Almost certainly!   

 Clearly, securing our communities starts at the border. This is the message that the Americans for Prosperity Foundation has articulated repeatedly during our numerous border trips and border security events throughout the states. We need to understand that without border security, every town becomes a border town, every state becomes a border state. 

Montana understands this. In 2023, we seized nearly 400,000 fentanyl dosages, more than twice as much as we did in 2022. These drugs are streaming in through our porous southern border. That’s why our National Guard was deployed there most of last year, and our governor recently visited it. The border is a mess, and it needs our attention. 

Unfortunately, our incumbent Democratic Senator Jon Tester doesn’t seem to get it. He has been talking a big game on border security during this very important campaign year. But that doesn’t make up for his inaction during his first 17 years in the Senate. In 2019, he called a plan to build 200 miles of border wall a “gross waste of taxpayer dollars.” And in 2021, he voted against legislation that would have protected Americans from fentanyl by increasing drug detection inspections at the border. 

So how do we secure the border? Tucson Chief Border Patrol Agent John Modlin said it best in his interview for a recent Congressional report:

[W]hat I’ve seen in my career is that we always need that combination of things. You’ve         probably heard me talk quite a bit about technology, infrastructure, and personnel. And so nothing by itself works. The personnel by itself, there will never be enough of us to do this. A border wall system by itself won’t work. The technology, you have to have hands – somebody put hands on somebody. (emphasis added)   

Border walls are effective in urban areas, where crossers can vanish in seconds. On the other hand, walls aren’t particularly helpful in a remote area, like Big Bend National Park, where it might take days to reach the nearest highway or city. There, technology like drones and sensors to detect illegal migrant activity is crucial.   

Something that is often lost when we talk about the border wall is that it isn’t a stand-alone entity. It was part of a system based on Border Patrol’s requirements. It comes with high-powered lights, motion sensors, and long-range cameras. That’s what made Biden’s abrupt cancellation of Trump’s border wall so damaging. Border Patrol wasn’t merely losing a wall; they were also losing other tools to apprehend illegal crossers.   

Walls and technology, while very important, have, of course, never made an apprehension. That’s why you’ll always need personnel. But it’s been difficult to hire, and even more difficult to retain good personnel. After peaking at 21,444 in FY 2011, the number of Border Patrol agents dropped to 19,536 in FY 2021. Enticing and retaining personnel is difficult because of the isolated work locations, negative public perception of Border Patrol agents, and because those with higher degrees can find more lucrative work in other occupations. 

A strong border is not a panacea to all that ails this great country, but it’s necessary for a stronger and safer U.S.   

Chris T. Clem is a retired Chief Patrol Agent who served as a U.S. border patrol agent for 27 years. Jesse L. Ramos is a former Missoula City Councilman and serves as the state director for Americans for Prosperity Montana. Austin Knudsen is the 25th Attorney General of Montana. Prior to becoming Attorney General, he served two-terms as the Speaker of the House of Representatives and served as Roosevelt County Attorney.