Operation Gatekeeper

Operation Gatekeeper

Operation Gatekeeper was a Clinton-era measure aimed to halt immigration at the United States–Mexico border near San Diego, California.[1] According to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the goal of Gatekeeper was "to restore integrity and safety to the nation's busiest border."

Operation Gatekeeper was announced in Los Angeles on September 17, 1994 by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, and was launched two weeks later on October 1.

In the United States Congress, additional funds were allocated to the United States Border Patrol and other agencies. By 1997, the budget of the Immigration and Naturalization Service had doubled to 800 million dollars, the number of Border Patrol agents had nearly doubled, the amount of fencing or other barriers more than doubled, and the number of underground sensors nearly tripled.

The merits of Operation Gatekeeper have been debated extensively, including during Congressional hearings. The Department of Justice, the INS and the Border Patrol have maintained that Operation Gatekeeper is a success. However, various Congressmen and newspaper articles have sharply criticized the program and declared it a failure.[2]


The first phase of Gatekeeper focused on the five westernmost miles of the border, extending from the Pacific Ocean to the San Ysidro checkpoint. U.S. migration routes immediately shifted eastward, and the use of professional smugglers increased. In May 1995, the Border Patrol initiated Operation Disruption to target smugglers, known as coyotes or polleros, and also established new checkpoints on interior highways.

Phase two, launched in October 1995, consisted of the appointment of Alan Bersin as the Attorney General's Special Representative on Southwest Border Issues and the establishment of the first Immigration Court of the actual boundary at the San Ysidro port of entry. The court expedited hearings for and subsequent deportations of people apprehended in attempts to enter via official ports of entry with false documents or through false representation.

Phase two also introduced IDENT, a computerized system to facilitate identification of repeat offenders and "criminal aliens", non-U.S. citizens with criminal records or active warrants. The Border Patrol also intensified relations with local law enforcement agencies to counter the flow of migrants through the Otay Mountains.[3]

Allegations of NAFTA enforcement

Academic Noam Chomsky has said that Operation Gatekeeper was a "militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border" and alleges it was because NAFTA would have increased illegal immigration into the United States therefore Gatekeeper was a precaution to stop future illegal immigration caused by NAFTA.[4]


  1. ^ See Joseph Nevins, Operation Gatekeeper: The Rise of the "Illegal Alien" and the Making of the U.S.-Mexico Boundary (Routledge, 2002)
  2. ^ Operation Gatekeeper: An Investigation Into Allegations of Fraud and Misconduct
  3. ^ "USDOJ/OIG Special Report". July, 1998. http://www.usdoj.gov/oig/special/9807/exec.htm. 
  4. ^ The Unipolar Moment and the Obama Era, Noam Chomsky.

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