In announcing the resumption of a “virtual fence” on the U.S.-Mexican border, the Obama administration sent a powerful message of continuity with President George W. Bush, who included a pledge to secure the border as part of a 2006 effort to persuade Congress to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws.
Much as Bush aides did three years ago, administration officials in the Department of Homeland Security described a five-year, multibillion-dollar plan yesterday to link a chain of tower-mounted sensors and other surveillance equipment over most of the 2,000-mile southern frontier. As before, the network of cameras, radar and communications gear is intended to speed deployment of U.S. Border Patrol officers to intercept illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and other violators, yielding greater “operational control” over the vast and rugged area.
What is different, DHS officials said, is that they have learned lessons from the technical problems that dogged the Bush administration’s first, 28-mile pilot project south of Tucson. What remains unclear is whether the ambitious technology will encounter fresh setbacks that would embarrass President Obama, who has urged Congress to streamline the immigration system and work out a way to deal fairly with the 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States, analysts said…
Susan Ginsburg, director of the mobility and security program at the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, agreed that “the jury is out” on whether the virtual fence design makes the most sense. But she said the undertaking is necessary as much to thwart terrorism and organized crime at the border as to foil illegal immigrants looking for work, if not more so…
The government has made many changes since a $20 million pilot rushed off-the-shelf equipment into operation without testing, relied on inadequate police dispatching software and ignored the input of Border Patrol officers, who found that radar systems were triggered by rain, satellite communications were too slow to permit camera operators to track targets by remote control, and cameras had poor visibility.
Mark Borkowski said DHS has paid $600 million to its prime contractor, Boeing. It is using new software, radar, cameras and sturdier towers, and has simplified camera operation and added more thorough testing by Border Patrol officers.
None of these security systems are rocket science. They work well in a broad range of environments, commercially and in the military. The latter being closer to the reality of border security. Frankly, I’d be hard-pressed to understand how Bush’s flunkies screwed it up.
I guess that last sentence answers itself.