Border and Port Security


Border and port security agencies are charged with keeping their nations safe from terrorists and illegal, smuggled goods. RAND researchers examine border and port security challenges and immigration issues, and also advises U.S. Customs and Border Security on ways to best allocate its limited resources.

Explore Border and Port Security

  • Chain link fence protecting American border


    Getting Smarter About Border Security Strategy, Data, and Technology Infrastructure

    There is no single solution for border security challenges. However, a network of mutually reinforcing and even redundant layers of defenses can enable the U.S. to better control its borders.

    Jul 31, 2014

  • Officer Eric Darnsteadt from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service inspects shipping containers arriving at Port Newark with a truck-mounted X-ray machine


    Securing America's Ports by Better Measuring Capabilities

    Funding for improving U.S. port security has declined from $389 million in 2008 to $100 million in 2014. This makes it more important than ever to ensure the highest possible return on investment from grant funding.

    Jun 13, 2014

  • Customs and Border Protection officer Ballard inspects a motorist's passport at the San Ysidro border crossing between Mexico and the U.S. in San Ysidro, California


    Saving Money by Using Advanced DoD Sensors on the U.S. Border

    There is no legal reason why a DoD sensor should be excluded from use in an interagency technology demonstration or in an actual counterdrug operation as long as a valid request for support is made by an appropriate law enforcement official and no personally identifiable or private information on U.S. citizens is collected.

    Jun 6, 2014

  • A Station Ft. Lauderdale crew detains an unknown vessel during an excercise that tested new communication and tracking technologies in the Port Everglades


    Securing America's Ports

    America's ports could be made more secure by improving the evaluation of port security programs; increasing the reliance on local risk assessments when awarding port security grants; and reconsidering the 100 percent container inspection mandate.

    Jun 4, 2014

  • U.S. Border Patrol agents patrol along the international border between Mexico and the United States near San Diego, California, photo by Reuters/Mike Blake


    Improving Interagency Information Sharing Using Technology Demonstrations

    New and innovative intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technologies developed by the U.S. Department of Defense for the military could also be used by the Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration to help secure the southern U.S. border.

    Mar 18, 2014

  • airport security check with passenger walking through metal detector


    The Real Homeland Security Issues for 2014

    Americans should be able to discuss the terrorist threat and how best to meet it, how much of the country’s precious resources should be devoted to homeland security, and the impact intelligence efforts can have on personal privacy and freedom.

    Feb 5, 2014

  • Homeland Security Investigations agents capture Mexican national wanted for kidnapping


    Border Security Is Key to Immigration Reform

    Two important aspects of border security bear continued attention: strategy must be developed as one part of a holistic system of immigration management and any progress on improving this system is reliant on having concrete and sensible objectives and measures of success.

    Jul 15, 2013

  • Mexico border


    If U.S.-Mexico Get Security Right, Other Good Policy Will Follow

    Obama and Peña Nieto emphasized economic cooperation at their summit not because security issues have gone away, but because the new rules of the game in this nascent relationship between the two leaders are evolving, writes Agnes Gereben Schaefer.

    May 29, 2013

  • Migrant workers load cucumbers into a truck in Blackwater, Virginia


    Is Enforcement Key to Fixing America's Immigration System?

    The current debate regarding comprehensive immigration reform offers an opportunity to redesign the worksite immigration enforcement system to achieve more efficient enforcement with better intelligence on where undocumented workers are employed, say Andrew Morral and Peter Brownell.

    Feb 15, 2013

  • President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 12, 2013


    The State of the Union 2013

    The 2013 SOTU address will be remembered for its impassioned call for greater gun control just two months after Sandy Hook. But President Obama's second-term agenda can be characterized by its sheer breadth, reflecting the broad range of policy challenges facing the U.S. today.

    Feb 13, 2013

  • The towns of Nogales, Ariz., left, and Nogales, Mexico, stand separated by a high concrete and steel fence


    Legalization and Border Security: Are We There Yet?

    The White House and a bipartisan group of senators recently unveiled proposals for comprehensive immigration reform. The proposal raises a number of questions, says Peter Brownell: How would success in securing the border actually be determined? Would it mean absolutely zero unauthorized immigration across U.S. borders?

    Feb 7, 2013

  • At a rally, two women hold signs calling for immigration reform.


    Potential Path to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants Takes Shape

    A group of U.S. Senators this week unveiled a proposal to reform the nation's immigration laws, outlining a path to citizenship for most of the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants and endorsing an increase of certain types of foreign-born workers.

    Jan 31, 2013

  • Container/cargo ship


    Revisiting 100% Inspection

    It is good that the congressmen have asked the Obama administration to revisit supply chain security. However, precipitous changes to how the global supply chain operates do not seem warranted, may not in fact improve security, and could have costly unintended consequences, writes Henry Willis.

    Jul 6, 2012

  • CBP Border Patrol agent scans trains passing through Montana for any illegal actives.


    Using Pattern Analysis and Systematic Randomness to Allocate U.S. Border Security Resources

    Pattern and trend analysis and systematic randomness can be used to position U.S. border security personnel and equipment effectively for interdiction, and in some circumstances the combined approach is competitive with perfect surveillance.

    Mar 27, 2012

  • A soldier keeps watch outside a house being used as a meth lab in the community of San Juan Mazatlan, Mexico


    The Challenge of Violent Drug-Trafficking Organizations

    Violent drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico produce, transship, and deliver into the U.S. tens of billions of dollars worth of narcotics annually. A Delphi exercise offers an assessment of the security situation in Mexico through the lens of existing research on urban unrest, historical insurgencies, and defense-sector reform.

    Oct 21, 2011

  • Report


    Four Approaches to Estimating the Total Flow of Illegal Border Crossings Between Ports of Entry

    Fundamental to the question of border control effectiveness is the proportion of illegal crossings that are prevented through deterrence or apprehension, but estimating these proportions requires knowing the total flow. Four new approaches warrant further attention for purposes of supporting reliable, valid, and timely measures of illicit cross-border flow.

    Mar 18, 2011

  • Journal Article

    Journal Article

    Deterring the Smuggling of Nuclear Weapons in Container Freight Through Detection and Retaliation

    The authors quantify a game-theoretic model of terrorist decision making to understand the role of nuclear detection technologies in deterring nuclear terrorism.

    Jan 1, 2011

  • Report


    Measuring the Effectiveness of Border Security Between Ports-of-Entry

    Focusing on three missions—illegal drug control, counterterrorism, and illegal migration—this report recommends ways to measure performance of U.S. border-security efforts in terms of interdiction, deterrence, and exploiting networked intelligence.

    Jun 23, 2010

  • Events @ RAND Audio Podcast


    Mexican Security in Decline: Implications and Options for the United States

    On June 17, 2009, Jack Riley discussed how Mexican security issues affect the United States, implications for traditional border concerns such as illegal immigration and drug trafficking, and various policy options available to aid the Mexican government in improving security.

    Jun 17, 2009

  • News Release

    News Release

    U.S. Freight System Modernization Necessary to Reduce Bottlenecks, Improve Security

    The long-term efficiency and effectiveness of the U.S. freight transportation system is threatened by bottlenecks, inefficient use of some parts of the infrastructure components, vulnerability to disruptions, and crucial environmental and energy concerns.

    Jun 9, 2009

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