Construction crews install an eight-foot wide by 23-foot tall panel for the new bollard style border fence in Nogales, Arizona near the Mariposa Port of Entry on Wednesday, April 13, 2011. Jill Torrance/Arizona Daily Star

The answer: it depends on you ask. I tackled this issue in my Sunday story — Border is a clear line; 'control' is a gray area — that is now up on our website. Here's an excerpt:

"Everybody from politicians to Border Patrol officials to regular old Joes in Tucson wants the border secured.

But how we measure that is nebulous.

Border Patrol Chief Michael Fisher told Congress in February that the agency's goal has been to "gain, maintain and sustain operational control."

While that term - operational control - has become a buzzword, it is not uniformly defined. And the Border Patrol has already discarded it in favor of new performance measures it is developing.

When Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin was asked how he defined a controlled border during a leadership vision series at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C., last October, he said this:

"Border security means public safety and the sense in the community that the border is being reasonably and effectively managed."

Arizona's longtime Republican Sen. John McCain was asked how he defined operational control during a press conference last month in Tucson.

"Implementation of Jon Kyl and I's 10-point plan," he said, touting a proposal for more Border Patrol agents, National Guard troops and several new initiatives.

So how, in lieu of a uniform measurement recognized by all, do taxpayers and legislators gauge progress on border security?

There's no clear answer."


As I mentioned in the story, the question of how the government measures border security has garnered more attention in recent months than ever before. After 15 years of unprecedented spending on border security, and in tight budget times, Congress needs to know what works and what doesn't, Doris Meissner told me for the story. 

That increased emphasis on the topic provided me with a wealth of information, interviews and testimony to draw from for the story. Here are links to several of them:

During this hearing, Fisher provided this explanation of operation control:

“Over the past few years, the goal of our national strategy has been to gain, maintain and expand operational control utilzing the right combination of personnel, technology and infrastructutre.

“Our tactical definition of opertional control as a narrow term of art is the extent to which we are able to detect, identify, classify, respond to and ultimately resolve all threats within the theater of operation.

“Operational control and the specitic levels is a means by which we asess the requirements to achieve the goal. 

“Operation Control is not, in and of itself, a measure of border security”

At the 52:00 mark, he answers the question, 'How do you define border control?'

The GAO discusses how the Border Patrol measures 'operational control,' and lays out how the agency determined that about 44 percent of the U.S.-Mexico border is under the classification.

Meissner was commissioner of the now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1993 to 2000 and is a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank that advocates for comprehensive immigration changes.