Operation Hold the Line

by: Vincent Dowd

Operation Hold the Line was a preventative measure taken by the United States Border Patrol, initiated on September 19, 1993.[1] Originally the operation was named Operation Blockade.  The location of the operation was on the United States-Mexico border in El Paso, Texas.[2]  A similar operation called Operation Gatekeeper, was also taking place in the San Diego sector.Silvestre Reyes, who was the head of the El Paso Border Control at the time, ordered his officers to form a human and vehicle blockade along the border.  There were four hundred agents and vehicles every 100 yards from one side of El Paso to the other, in order to prevent illegal immigration.  Similar blockade attempts had been experimented with before but inevitably failed due to the expensive nature of such a preventative measure.  Unlike the previous attempts, however, Reyes’ blockade stayed in place until the Immigration and Naturalization Service saw the success it was having and permanently funded it.[3]  Operation Hold the Line was the first operation of its kind and represented a shift in ideology in policing illegal immigration.  Previous policies focused on finding and deporting illegal immigrants who had already crossed the border.  Operation Hold the Line instead focused on intercepting and preventing illegal entries at the border.

U.S. Border Patrol Station in El Paso, Texas

Immediately the operation affected El Paso and surrounding areas.  “Operation Hold the Line was credited with a seventy-two percent drop in apprehensions in the El Paso sector (covering the border area between Tucson, Arizona, and Marfa, Texas) between fiscal 1993 and 1994, when other sectors averaged only a three percent drop. It was also seen as the cause of 286,000 fewer aliens crossing in fiscal 1994, 146,000 fewer in 1996, and 105,000 fewer in the first nine months of 1997 in the El Paso sector.”[4]  Following the success of Operation Hold the Line, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., began passing legislation that focused on border security.  In February of 1994 Attorney General Janet Reno and INS Commissioner Doris Meissner announced a multiyear strategy to slow illegal immigration.  The strategy’s main focus was strengthening border control by allocating resources on the traditionally busiest crossing corridors for illegal immigration into the United States. “It called for adding 1,000 Border Patrol agents in the areas of greatest need and expanding the use of infrared scopes, lighting, secondary fences, and upgraded sensors.”[5]   During the late 20th century, a major reason that Mexicans were immigrating to the United States was peso devaluation.  In the early 1970s the Mexican economy was consistently growing but in the next two decades the economy collapsed due to inflation, and this resulted in the peso being worth far less than the American dollar.  However, Operation Hold the Line has flaws that we now see with hindsight.  The Operation had two major effects.  First, the number of immigrants who die trying to cross the border has risen significantly.  This is because immigrants now attempt to cross the border in remote desert areas, which have less security.  The second effect is that migrants who successfully cross the border, stay in the United States longer than before, rather than risking arrest traveling back and forth from Mexico.

For Further Reading

Can We Control the Border? A Look at Recent Efforts in San Diego, El Paso and         Nogales (http://www.cis.org/articles/1995/border/border3.html)

Report to the Chairman, Subcommittee on Information, Justice, Transportation and             Agriculture, Committee on Government Operations, House of Representatives            (http://www.gao.gov/archive/1995/gg9530.pdf)

Andrew Becker, “Immigration Timeline”, PBS, (accessed 2-10-12), (http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/mexico704/history/timeline.html)

National Immigration Forum, “Southwest Border Security Operations”, Dec. 2010, (http://www.immigrationforum.org/images/uploads/SouthwestBorderSecurityOperations.pdf)

[1] Meyers, Deborah. “From Horseback to High-Tech US Border Enforcement.” Migration Information Source. http://www.migrationinformation.org/usfocus/display.cfm?ID=370 (accessed February 11, 2012).

[2] Clayton, William. “Our border can be controlled,’ says analysis of two crackdowns.” Houston Chronical. http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl/1995_1277276/our-border-can-be-controlled-says-analysis-of-two.html (accessed February 11, 2012).

[3] Combs, Susan. “Immigration.” Window on State Government. http://www.window.state.tx.us/border/ch11/ch11.html (accessed April 29, 2012).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Meyers, Deborah. “From Horseback to High-Tech US Border Enforcement.” Migration Information Source. http://www.migrationinformation.org/usfocus/display.cfm?ID=370 (accessed February 11, 2012).