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Senate Immigration Bill Calls For A Drone-Patrolled Border


Aired 4/24/13

The major immigration reform bill introduced last week by a bipartisan group of senators would earmark $6.5 billion to beef up border security. And it specifically calls for more drones to keep a watch on the southern border. But the border drones have yet to prove their worth.

Veterans for Peace demonstrate against using drones for domestic surveillance...
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Above: Veterans for Peace demonstrate against using drones for domestic surveillance August 2012

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, could soon be patrolling the United States border with Mexico 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That's what the major immigration reform bill introduced last week by a bipartisan group of senators proposes.

The goal: “effective control” of the border. Under the bill, no immigrant granted provisional legal status would be eligible to apply for a Green Card until the Department of Homeland Security shows it's made substantial progress toward that goal. Border hawks want the pathway to citizenship more firmly tied to border security success.

Ten Predator B drones already patrol the nation’s borders. Some worry authorities will use drones to spy on Americans without due process.

San Diego-based General Atomics provides Predator drones to the DHS and the U.S. military.

Several weeks ago, the anti-war group Code Pink protested in front of the home of General Atomics CEO Neal Blue. They launched a baby drone that was soon confiscated by a police officer.

"It's my drone and I want to know why I can't fly it over Neal Blue's house," Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin said to the officer.

Up until now, 36-foot-long Predator drones have been used on the southern border to patrol remote areas of Texas and Arizona.

They've also been lent out to other federal agencies like FEMA, which used the drones to survey flood damage.

Proponents of the border drones say they’re a valuable resource. Representative Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, co-chairs the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus with California Republican Buck McKeon.

"UAVs provide real time intelligence and information as well as providing officer safety,” Cuellar said.

The drone caucus, as it’s also known, advocates for increased use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, for national security, military and law enforcement operations.

Cuellar does say, however, that we need more information about the work of the border drones.

“We gotta have efficiencies, effectiveness, accountability on how they're used,” he said. “But again, keep in mind, look at the history how they’ve been used extremely well in the military.”

Of course, military drones are best known as stealth killing machines, while the border drones are used strictly for surveillance.

Thus far the only statistics that border authorities have released to the public reveal pretty mediocre results.

After more than 5,700 hours of flying time last year — at a total operating cost of at least $18 million — drones helped agents confiscate just three percent of all drugs seized along the border last year.

And illegal border crossers? The drones helped agents apprehend just 143 people out of 365,000 apprehensions last year, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Information recently uncovered by the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting suggests there are many, many more illegal crossers who got away. CBP reports obtained by the center suggest fewer than half of the illegal border crossers detected by a drone were arrested.

"It's one thing to have data coming from a drone; It's another thing to be able to respond to it," said David Shirk, an expert on border security at the University of San Diego.

Catching illegal crossers spotted by drones would require agents on the ground in the remote areas where drones currently patrol. The senators' bill could address this: it calls for adding 3,500 new CBP officers to its current staff of more than 60,000.

And the extra billions earmarked in the bill for a new border security strategy could help authorities tackle at least some of the other problems with the border drone program.

Problems like getting them up in the air. Last May, Homeland Security’s Inspector General reported that the border drones were on the ground 70 percent of the time they were supposed to be flying. Bad weather was one excuse, but the Inspector General also cited management problems and a lack of qualified staff and equipment.

David Shirk said he thinks more drones patrolling the border would be effective in revealing smuggling patterns.

“(But) the real question is, number one, will we be able to use the information we get from drones effectively to address the problem? And two, what's the cost-benefit?" he said.

CBP has never released such an analysis publicly. And some security experts wonder if there could be other types of drones or technology that could better provide that Holy Grail of effective border control.

Maybe. But right now, CBP is already locked into a nearly half-billion dollar contract with San Diego's General Atomics. The contract covers maintenance and equipment for the existing fleet, and up to 14 new drones.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story references an article written by the Center for Investigative Reporting based on an internal U.S. Customs and Border Protection report. CBP spokesman Michael Friel said the methodology used in the report to count apprehensions of illegal border crossers and turn backs "was flawed and therefore yielded misleading information."

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | April 23, 2013 at 3:02 p.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

I am growing increasingly concerned about drones and security cameras.

A society is not free without some level of trust, and the government being able to track our every move the second I leave my front door (and even inside my own home) is NOT the kind of world I want to live in.

The modern industrialized countries of the world are certainly on our way to destorying our own freedom with this overzealous crap.

I don't care if London is peppered with cameras on every corner, I don't want that here.

NO government drones.

SERIOUS REGULATION on government security cameras.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 24, 2013 at 9:23 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

$18 million. LOL LOL LOL Where are those anti-spending birchers now???

Oh, wait! It's LE, so they get a free pass!

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 24, 2013 at 9:24 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

@DUCKSTER, I hear in London there's security cameras at every corner. Of course, you would need the manpower to go through everything thoroughly.

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Avatar for user 'bailarin'

bailarin | April 24, 2013 at 9:28 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

Take away the sugar and the ants won't come. Why are we spending billions on the U.S.-Mexican border when a cheaper alternative can be implemented?

The U.S. Congress should allow the U.S. Border Patrol to implement a surprise inspection program so they can inspect of all businesses large and small to check for employee's legal status to work in the U.S. What the country needs is to remove all lobbyists in the Halls of the U.S. Congress and the White House so we can have a more comprehensive government policies not influenced by special interest group.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 24, 2013 at 9:50 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

BAILARINA, that's not the "sugar." The sugar is the functional need for inexpensive labor. That's the "sugar." It's simple economics. Mmmaybe 101 might help?

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | April 24, 2013 at 12:32 p.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

That need for inexpensive labor is in part being addressed, ironically enough, by robotics. In the next decade we will see a significant shift away from the use of unskilled labor, which is a good thing.
I do see B's point though. Change the risk-reward calculus for employers to hire illegals enough (and remove social support programs for non-workers) and the 'better life in America' reason to violate immigration law will disappear as well.

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Avatar for user 'bailarin'

bailarin | April 24, 2013 at 1:53 p.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

I am from the old B school and know full well about Economics 101. Business create their own customers and if they don't provide more than living wages who then could affort their products and services. The issue here is illegal immigration not labor cost. Sure business profit from cheap illegal labor but we taxpayers bear the burden of providing them with healthcare cost incurred when they go to the emergency room and public schooling for their offsprings.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 25, 2013 at 8:39 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

BENZ, we are talking here about not only unskilled labor, but semi-skilled and skilled labor as well. Or are you saying that all those cries about "they're taking our jobs" are from a bunch of unskilled gringos???

Increasing technology/mechanization in the workplace is not a new thing by any means--at least since circa the Industrial Revolution. Marx and Engels wrote about this. What makes you think that technology in the factory in the next 10 years is going to eliminate inexpensive manual labor??? BUT if you think you are so right about, then you have NOTHING to worry about!!! Your worries and fears will be laid to rest!

Remove "social support" for nonworkers. LOL Like if you were living in the shadows, you would come out and apply for things as if nothing. See University of Kentucky agricultural sociologist David Coffey who has made this observation and it is just common sense. See also this, but the denial is just too overwhelming:

RAND Study Shows Relatively Little Public Money Spent Providing › News and Events › News Releases › 2006Cached
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Nov 14, 2006 – RAND Study Shows Relatively Little Public Money Spent Providing ... undocumented immigrants, according to a RAND Corporation study

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | April 25, 2013 at 8:56 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago


Surely you studied sales taxation in class. Last I checked, there are no "illegal resident" taxation-waivers at retail businesses. Just a reminder that taxation is not a zero-sum game for "illegal residents."

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 25, 2013 at 9:10 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

Oh, and Benz Benz, we've been over this many times. A large percentage of undocumented workers are NOT coming to the USA to settle permanantly.

Wayne Cornelius dispelled this myth with a study in the late 70s when he was with MIT. Over a quarter of a century later, Princeton's Douglas Massey makes an another study which arrives at the same conlusion. On the Mexican side, sociologist Jorge Bustamante has arrived at the same results. In fact, in southern Mexico they even have a local nickname for these people, because they migrate back and forth like birds. So rest assured, they are not coming to dissplace you, nor do they NECESSARILY look upon the USA as the stereotyped "land of milk and honey." The people we are talking about here are either seasonal workers (and you know there are many) and more generally, people who come here temporarily to save up and return once they have a certain amount. It is no surprise then, that many are not interested in citizenship. This, ironically, is a myth that both immigration advocates as well as the restrictionists always make. One needs to look at the facts.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | April 25, 2013 at 9:24 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

BAILARINA, well for someone who graduated from B-school, you surprise me in that you choose to ignore, or at least minimize socio-economic push-pull factors--particularly the pull factors.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | April 26, 2013 at 8:21 a.m. ― 3 years, 11 months ago

I am talking about manual labor, much of it unskilled. As technology advances the specific skills needed to produce products shifts, as does the individual rate of production. We have seen a similar shift in machining with the advent of CNC/CAD. Also with the transition from hand shovels to earth movers.
Specifically, there are harvesters in the works that will undercut the cost of stoop labor and eliminate the need for many of the agricultural workers who play a large part in the debate about temporary labor. This is a good thing. With no demand there will be less and less reason to violate the law and sneak in here or remain here longer than agreed upon. We can remove the need for (many of) them to come at all. I am talking about eliminating the pull factor.

Why are you bringing up permanent settlement? I am discussing illegal crossing and overstaying. I don't have an issue with, nor did I bring up permanent self-supporting integration.

I do not believe most people who are receiving social support are living in the shadows, nor did I claim that. Please re-read what I said. There are plenty of unskilled people domestically whose incentive to work is diminished by overly generous social programs.

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