Homeland Security approves “virtual” border fence

The high-tech Project 28 “virtual fence” on a 28-mile stretch of the US-Mexico border near Nogales, AZ, is ready for operation, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Feb. 22. The $20 million project of sensor towers and advanced mobile communications, built by Boeing Co, was supposed to be completed in mid-2007 but was delayed by software problems, drawing congressional criticism. Homeland Security plans to extend the “virtual fence” elsewhere along the border in Arizona, as well as to sections of Texas.

“I have personally witnessed the value of this system, and I have spoken directly to the Border Patrol agents…who have seen it produce actual results, in terms of identifying and allowing the apprehension of people who were illegally smuggling across the border,” Chertoff said.

While both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama suggested in their debate in Austin, TX, Feb. 21 that high-tech surveillance could lessen the need for a planned 700-mile border fence, Chertoff said the physical fence plans would not change.

Homeland Security is also acquiring a fourth aerial drone for patrols along the border, and plans to get two more, he said. It also plans to increase the number of ground-based mobile radar surveillance systems to 40 from six in 2008. “In some form or fashion, technology is going to be virtually every place on the border, but it’s not necessarily going to be in the configuration of P28,” Chertoff said. President George W. Bush asked Congress this month for $775 million to build more fencing and install surveillance equipment along the border. As of now, 302 miles of fencing have been built.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), who heads the House Homeland Security committee, criticized the “virtual fence” project, and charged that Border Patrol agents were blocked from pointing out “obvious flaws” in the system. (Reuters, Feb. 22)

On Feb. 13, a Homeland Security officer at a Tucson command center—70 miles from the border—electronically observed some 100 people gathered at the border, AP reports. The officer reportedly notified agents on the ground and in the air. Border Patrol caught 38 of the 100, and the others went back into Mexico, according a Homeland Security official who spoke on condition of anonymity. (AP, Feb. 23)

See our last post on the struggle for the border.