Napolitano halts work on “virtual” border fence

The Obama administration will halt new work on the $3 billion “virtual fence” planned for the Mexican border, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced March 16, diverting $50 million in planned economic stimulus funds for the project to other purposes. “Not only do we have an obligation to secure our borders, we have a responsibility to do so in the most cost-effective way possible,” Napolitano said in a statement. “The system of sensors and cameras along the Southwest border known as SBInet has been plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines.”

Napolitano said the administration is withholding funding for the Boeing-managed program until a review she ordered in January is completed. The $50 million in stimulus funds slated for the program will be put toward “other tested, commercially available security technology along the Southwest border.” These include mobile surveillance devices and sensors, Napolitano said.

The freeze will not affect two pilot projects for the program in Arizona, Napolitano said. But the move is a serious setback for a troubled five-year plan for a chain of tower-mounted sensors and other surveillance gear across most of the 2,000-mile border. The Obama White House initially embraced the program, setting a new five-year timetable for completion. However, the administration last month proposed cutting funding to finish SBInet’s first phase by roughly 30% to $574 million, under new congressional questioning about the plan’s feasibility. (Politico, WP, March 16)

The decision does not affect the “non-virtual” border wall being built under the rubric of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI).

See our last post on the struggle for the border and the politics of immigration.

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