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Homeland Security officials are planning to create a military-like chain of command to police the Southwest U.S. border, in what could be the department’s most significant restructuring since its creation in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, according to people familiar with the discussions.
The plan would create a Southern Command, or Southcom in military parlance, bringing together groups of agents from Customs and Border Protection, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, these people said. A Coast Guard admiral would oversee Southcom, and have command over personnel from both agencies, they said.
According to the Wall Street Journal the effort is aimed at reducing the influx of illegal immigrants and improving investigations of criminal activity along the Southwest border. More than 400,000 immigrants were apprehended trying to illegally cross into the U.S. in the 2013 budget year, according to Border Patrol statistics. In recent months, authorities have struggled to deal with a wave of children entering the U.S. The number of children entering illegally nearly doubled, to 66,127, from the previous year, according to the government.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has been pushing to overhaul the organizational structure of the department, which has long been criticized by lawmakers and some former agency officials over how it manages and coordinates resources.
Adopting a military-style structure would create a strict hierarchy, one that advocates say clarifies the chain of command, speeds up decision-making and reduces bureaucratic disputes over turf.
Such a reorganization, which is still being discussed at DHS, could require legislation. But it has proven difficult to pass any immigration-related legislation, as the Obama administration and congressional Republicans remain far apart on the issue.