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The wall of eyes trained on the US – Mexico border


I want to put my hand in the border. I’m standing in the United States, it’s 103
degrees, and I’m looking across a river into Mexico. If someone wanted to they
could just swim across in like, two minutes. Border patrol has all of these mechanisms for making sure that
doesn’t happen. Eyes in the sky. GPS coordinates. Conex box. Motion X. Raid tower. ATVs. There’s a laser. Alpha 5. Shallow draft rain vessel. One sensor. Another sensor. Tactical operation centers. Binos. Scouts. Mobile units. Agents on horseback. There’s been all this talk about building a wall on our southern border. It could cost up to
seventy billion dollars. We’re building the wall. We’re building the
wall, folks. We’re building the wall. Turns out there already is kind of a
wall. In addition to the hundreds of miles of physical wall that exists,
there’s a wall of technology, of surveillance, where people and technology
and infrastructure spend days and nights staring at the border. That’s what I
went down to Texas to look at and I want to understand if the billions of dollars
that we spend on this technology is actually worth it. These white blimps, which are actually
called aerostats, are tethered to the ground. And they have cameras on them. These
cameras can zoom in to miles and miles away to see what’s going on in the
ground. They can see in the dark with infrared. They’re able to see any sort of
movement. This thing is called a raid tower. I just spent like 20 minutes
inside of the control room. Man, we were able to like zoom in on people on the
other side of the border and it was like super clear and perfectly focused. Then
you have seismic sensors. It’s picking up movement. Sensors are set up to kind of create a path. Let’s say you have one sensor go off. A few minutes later, another sensor goes off. So that lets the agent know that they’re taking
a certain route. Now, if it’s that one sensor and another sensor: okay they’re
taking another route. And you know how long it takes from point A to get all
the way to, let’s say, the highway. So it kind of gives us an opportunity to gauge
the amount of time that we have to respond. Another way the border patrol
does this job is with motion sensor cameras. Basically, cameras that are out
in the middle the brush that have motion trackers on it. So when someone walks by,
it takes a photo. Hunters actually use these to track, like, deer. And they can
see where deer are by taking a picture of them whenever they come in front of
the camera. Down in this area of southern Texas, there’s not a lot of walls, but
they use the walls strategically to funnel people to other places: other
parts of the border that don’t have walls, but where they have cameras and
where they have a lot of eyes. Now it’s time to go on some boats with
the border patrol. You have to get past us before you can even touch dry land. One of the tricky things about this specific sector, is that there’s a really
windy river that goes throughout the entire thing. Because of that a straight
line between two cities might be a hundred miles, but it covers 300 river
miles. No matter how much fancy technology they have here to stare at the border, the most important function and skill that these border patrol
agents have, is what they call cutting sign. There’s brand new fresh sign right there. There’s gotta be somebody here right now. What’s that? There’s somebody here right now. Sign can be anything: it can be a boot print, matted down grass, stuff left behind. His heel right here and how it’s kicked up,
that tells us that he’s running. They use old hunting techniques in order to find
out: who was in an area, where they went, how many people, what they were carrying.
Over the years these border patrol agents have developed a keen sense for
tracking down migrants. The Native Americans did tracking. It goes way back. If you’re hunting, you track. Might be a child. You never want to see children making this trip. One of the benefits to having the border patrol be this collection of people and
technology, is that you can move it around. Instead of having permanent
infrastructure always in one spot, you’re able to have this kind of fluid range of assets. We’re constantly adapting. We’re constantly looking at new technology and
different aspects that we can throw in their way. All of this costs us a lot of
money. The border patrol’s budget is 14 times bigger than it was in 1990. It’s just
gotten bigger and bigger every single year. A lot of that increase in budget is
going into this new technology, into this infrastructure. And so the next question
is: is this actually effective? Only 30% of the people who are actually crossing
into our country get caught by the border patrol, 30%. Even with all of this
technology and all these people and all of these mechanisms for staring at the
border, including walls, they still have a very difficult time keeping people from
entering our country. So in American politics if we’re gonna have this
discussion about securing our border, we need to come to terms with the fact that
this is an expensive and very complicated enterprise. And the idea that we can put
up a wall or any other technology that would just solve the problem is ignorant
and naive to the reality on the ground.

Stephen Childs

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