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Utilizing Technology to Better Secure the Southwest Border

Securing the U.S. southwest border from drug trafficking and human smuggling has long been a challenge. The border between the United States and Mexico is approximately 1,954 miles long, and includes several states on both sides.

Drug traffickers utilize various means to get illicit drugs into the United States. One common method is through tunnels, which are used to traffic primarily marijuana from Mexico into the United States. The tunnels are often equipped with ventilation, electricity, and railcars that move the drugs along.

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According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), drug traffickers also move contraband across the border using drones and other unmanned aircraft systems. Another method is to use compressed air cannons to launch bundles of drugs to awaiting vehicles on the other side of the fencing. The CRS says traffickers cut holes in barriers, and use vessels to move drugs offshore into the Pacific and then across the southwest border. They also move drugs across land areas where there are no constructed barriers.

Ninety Percent of Illegal Mexican Migrants Are Assisted into the US by Professional Smugglers

Smugglers are also responsible for bringing undocumented migrants across the southwest border illegally. The United Nations Office on Drug Control says 90% of illegal Mexican migrants are assisted by professional smugglers and 97% of the illegal migrants come over the southwest border.

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The UN Office on Drug Control adds that smuggled migrants are commonly collected in stash houses before making the crossing. Once in the United States the illegal migrants or their families normally must pay the remainder of the smuggling fee. Delaying final payment until the crossing is complete ensures that the migrants are not dumped off in the desert somewhere to die. However, this practice effectively transforms the migrants into hostages, a very dangerous situation for them.

Considering these problems, Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies are charged with the enormous responsibility of securing the border from drug trafficking and human smuggling. For years, Border Patrol agents have patrolled the southwest border relying on personal knowledge, instincts, and luck. According to Border Patrol Operations Officer Joseph Korchmaros, “We usually had to do our jobs without a lot of information.”

However, technology has greatly improved to secure the southwest border. Combining radars and cameras has been helpful because radars can track movement while cameras enable agents to see who is moving.

Utilizing Technology Is Essential to Provide Real-Time Intelligence to Agents in the Field

Utilizing technology is essential to provide real-time intelligence to agents in the field regarding the number of people moving along the border, whether they appear to be carrying drugs, and even if they are armed. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is using a wide array of technology depending on the location. That may include 120-foot-high towers with surveillance equipment to scaled down radar and camera equipment to give Border Patrol agents mobility on the ground. For example, high-definition cameras along the border area of Nogales focus on the 20-foot high barrier between Mexico and the United States.

Last July, the Southwest Border Security Technology Improvement Act of 2020 was introduced in Congress. It’s designed to require the Department of Homeland Security to assess radio and broadband communications equipment and intelligence gathering, and to determine the technological needs and gaps along the border.

The act calls for advances in manned aircraft sensors, common operating picture technology, unmanned aerial systems, tunnel detection technology, improved communications, and inspection technology that utilizes muon tomography and other advanced detection technology.

In addition, the act also calls for mobile surveillance vehicles, sensor technology, radar, advanced unattended surveillance sensors, and deployable ground surveillance equipment.

Border security equates to national security. It is critically important that technology and all available resources are employed to secure the southwest border.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor at American Military University. He has over 22 years’ experience in the field of homeland security. Jarrod has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Europe, and Central America on the topic of human trafficking, counter terrorism, police responses to domestic terrorism, and police stress management. For more information, please review

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