Lawmakers push for reforms of border tech, immigration

Members of Congress and Homeland Security Department officials said technology and immigration reforms are needed to bolster border security.

Despite an initiative to use new technologies to curb illegal immigration at the Arizona/Mexico border, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he was "concerned that we still do not have sufficient control of our nation's borders. [The Arizona Border Control initiative] represents a good first effort. However, it must be fully implemented and integrated into a broader borderwide initiative."

McCain, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and held a hearing today on enhancing border security, said there's a two-part solution — coupling immigration reform with improvements in infrastructure and enforcement in the region. "Without addressing these issues in tandem, we will never secure the border," he said.

The ABC initiative, in which federal border patrol agents are working in collaboration with state, local and tribal government officials, was launched in March and became fully operational earlier this month. The pilot test will last until October because it is currently the peak season for border activity. Afterward, DHS will evaluate the project, said Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary for the department's Border and Transportation Security (BTS) Directorate. More personnel and resources have been designated to the border, but new technologies are also being tested.

They include use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), which will be deployed June 30, Hutchinson said. Officials at DHS' Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate are helping BTS officials with research and development of UAVs including developing operational requirements and related technologies, such as aerostats, lighter-than-air ships and towers.

S&T, which has earmarked $5 million for the ABC initiative, is also helping develop heartbeat detectors to determine the number of people in a vehicle or enclosed area; language translators to communicate better with individuals who are caught; long-range acoustic devices to broadcast communications via a loudspeaker for hundreds of yards; and directional listening devices to detect activity in remote regions.

Other technologies include the use of 24-hour remote video surveillance of certain portions of the border, seismic, magnetic- and thermal-detection sensors to detect various types of activity, and intelligent computer systems to capture data as well as send alerts to appropriate personnel.

Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) said he represents a border district called the Tucson sector where about 45 percent of all apprehensions — about 155,000 people — along the southern border were made in a three-month period. He said he was disappointed with the progress of ABC's implementation, but said technology is one part of a more comprehensive approach toward immigration reform.

McCain is co-sponsoring a bill (S. 2295) called the Border Infrastructure and Technology Integration Act to improve technology, infrastructure and coordination along northern and southern border regions. It would direct BTS and S&T to conduct comprehensive vulnerability and threat assessments to determine technology and equipment needs as well as establish two new border technology programs to address aerial and ground surveillance. It will also improve communications integration and information sharing among the various jurisdictions and agencies.


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