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A Curious Compromise On Border Security

A curious compromise was reached Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on immigration reform. The 24/7 surveillance was deemed acceptable for most of the U.S.-Mexico border, except for California.

The compromise started last week when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced an amendment to the proposal asking that unmanned air surveillance be limited to 25 miles from the border.

But something happened along the way, and Tuesday’s discussion went far differently.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) doesn’t have an issue with drones patrolling the Texas border and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) didn’t seem to have an issue with them flying over Arizona. Feinstein worried about surveillance of major population centers, like San Diego, Los Angeles or Orange County. So the compromise became that drones would fly throughout a 100 mile band of the border in all states except California.

Here’s Feinstein:

“The reason for that is that we have several million people within a hundred miles of the border, in cities in Orange County, San Diego County and up to Long Beach lying within that mileage.”

She also worried about San Diego International Airport. Cornyn, Flake, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and the other members of the Judiciary Committee didn’t seem overly concerned about their own population centers, it was just Feinstein. So she got what she wished for: Drones will be limited to flying within three miles of the California-Mexico border, and everywhere else, 100 miles.

I’ve always found it a curious accommodation. Constant scrutiny is an acceptable form of managing the border as long as it only applies to border residents. Drive from Tucson to Nogales on Interstate 19 and you are being watched by U.S. Border Patrol agents in SUVs, a Drug Enforcement Administration surveillance camera mounted on the highway and Customs and Border Protection aerial assets, manned and not. And that’s without even leaving the country. Turn around and drive back to Tucson and you lose the DEA camera, but are stopped at a Border Patrol checkpoint.

In no other area of the nation will you encounter this level of federal scrutiny. In fact, there would be outrage if there were. The only similar situation I can think of is imagine your local police manning a checkpoint you have to stop at every time you drive to work in the morning. Then imagine those police photographing you and your license plate as you drive on through. Now add to that an unmanned plane watching from the sky 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

That is the price of border security, and it seems one that the public overall finds acceptable. Tuesday’s showing in the Senate hearing shows that it is acceptable so long as the constant state of vigilance does not impact too many of us.