How not to build a virtual fence
Luis Acosta/Getty Images Last year, FP‘s “Top 10 Stories You Missed” highlighted an issue that hadn’t yet gotten a lot of attention in the press — the fact that nearly half of the 700 miles of fence being built along the U.S.-Mexico border was actually slated to be “virtual” fence. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack ...
Last year, FP‘s “Top 10 Stories You Missed” highlighted an issue that hadn’t yet gotten a lot of attention in the press — the fact that nearly half of the 700 miles of fence being built along the U.S.-Mexico border was actually slated to be “virtual” fence. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have said they prefer virtual to more conventional fencing. But it might be time for both campaigns to go back to the drawing board. After evaluating a virtual fence pilot project, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has thrown cold water on the notion that such fences can be relied upon to secure the border any time soon:
The pilot virtual fence included nine mobile towers, radar, cameras, and vehicles retrofitted with laptops and satellite phones or handheld devices. They were to be linked to a near-real-time, maplike projection of the frontier that agents could use to track targets and direct law enforcement resources. GAO investigators said that [the virtual fence] could not process large amounts of sensor data. The resulting delays made it hard for operators in a Tucson command center 65 miles to the north to lock cameras on targets. Radar systems were also triggered inadvertently by rain and other environmental factors. Cameras had trouble resolving images at five kilometers when they were expected to work at twice that distance….”
The initial phase of the virtual fence — covering approximately 100 miles near Yuma, Arizona, and El Paso, Texas — was supposed to be completed by the end of 2008. But the GAO now estimates that it will take until the end of 2011 to complete that initial 100 miles of virtual fence. That means it will take until nearly the end of the next president’s first term to deploy a virtual fence along a tiny 100-mile stretch of the border. After that, friends, there’s just 1,900 miles to go. I figure we can get the whole thing “virtually secured” sometime around the turn of the century.
Listening to the Democrats talk about using science to secure the southern border is like listening to Republicans talk about using technology to solve climate change. Technology, we are assured, will solve all of America’s problems without us having to make any real changes. Sadly, in both cases, that’s just cover for not having a real policy to address the problem.
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