DHS Chief: More Agents and Electronic Sensors Headed to the Southwest Border
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is sending additional personnel to an area south of Tucson, Ariz., where the high-profile Secure Border Initiative’s virtual fence is now in limbo.
Napolitano ordered a review of the SBInet Increment 1 program earlier this year because of concerns that the system of cameras and the communications backbone that connected them to sector headquarters where they can be monitored were not working as planned. The review has not been completed.
Meanwhile drug traffickers —sensing a security void because of crackdown in neighboring sectors — have moved their smuggling operations south of Tucson, Napolitano said today at a Center for Strategic and International Studies panel discussion.
Smugglers are also using ultra-light aircraft to move drugs into the United States, she said. “We are working on the strategy and technology to shut that down,” she said of this smuggling method. They are also increasingly using routes over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, she said.
Napolitano announced a series of new initiatives for the Southwest border, many of which rely on existing technologies. Customs and Border Protection will step up its use of readers that automatically scan license plates for suspicious vehicles. These scanners will be placed along roads going both north and south. Mexican authorities have long complained that currency and guns are smuggled from the United States to Mexico. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is expanding the use of readers that gather biometric data so agents can immediately identify illegal migrants with criminal records.
In addition, the Federal Aviation Administration recently approved flights for unmanned aerial vehicles along the Texas Border Patrol sectors and in the Gulf Coast region. The Predator UAVs will fly out of the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station, she announced.
These initiatives “will be budget neutral,” a fact sheet released during the presentation stated. DHS is seeking an additional $500 million from Congress to bolster border security. That includes funds for 1,000 new Border Patrol agents and other personnel, and two more Predators UAVs.
Napolitano took a shot at members of Congress who say that a debate on comprehensive immigration reform can’t begin until the southern border is under control. “It’s a very different picture now than it was before,” she said of the Obama administration’s efforts during the past 18 months. “You might not get this impression from those trying to score political points,” she said and cited a series of statistics portraying a southern border region that is more secure than ever. Completely sealing the border is not possible, she maintained. But she acknowledged that there was more to be done. “Americans want the federal government to do everything it can to secure our borders,” she said. “No one is happy with the status quo.”