The Associated Press

Throwing Good Money After Bad on the Border

Spending $145 million on a string of towers to protect the border isn't a good investment.

The Associated Press

A border patrol vehicle patrolling along a fence in Abram, Texas.

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One recurrent theme in all of the various discussions of immigration policy is the need to “secure the border." While curtailing illegal immigration and other activity like smuggling across borders is a goal almost everyone can agree to, there is little agreement about what, exactly, doing so means. As a result, we’ve seen literally billions of dollars wasted on efforts to advance various proposed solutions.

In late February, the Department of Homeland Security took yet one more step toward spending money on technology unlikely to achieve the elusive goal of border security by awarding a contract for Integrated Fixed Towers along the southwest border after much delay. Reaching back into history, these towers were an element of the long since discredited Secure Border Initiative. The initiative was first conceived in 2005, morphed into SBInet in 2006, and was finally cancelled by the Department of Homeland Security in 2011.

Then, in 2012, an idea many thought was dead and buried gained new life when the Department of Homeland Security issued a solicitation for networked towers that would be equipped with cameras and sensors and tasked with detecting a, “single, walking, average-sized adult at a range of 5 miles (T) / 7.5 miles (O) under the following conditions: daylight and darkness.” This is a daunting technological task.

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In February, DHS awarded a contract worth more than $145 million to a U.S. based subsidiary of the Israeli company Elbit. The contract allows for as long as eight and a half years to build and place the towers along the Arizona border. The contract includes a command and control center for displaying the information captured by the cameras and sensors. That’s a long time to spend building the architecture of this program which may or may not be successful in finding people trying to cross a border almost 400 miles long. Given the recent history, it is not unreasonable to assume this will be one more cancelled program, but not before DHS throws good money after bad.

The Obama administration has deported roughly 400,000 people a year. This is far more than the George W. Bush administration, which never deported more than 360,000 (in the last year of the administration) and deported as few as 165,000 people in 2002. And it’s nineteen times the average number of people annually deported by the law and order Reagan administration.

It could be this administration figures it’s cheaper to deter some of these potential deportees before they reach the Arizona border. But it is hard to argue that spending $145 million on a string of towers is a good investment. Hopefully this isn’t the camel’s nose under the tent of that old, multibillion dollar, DHS wish list of equipment that wound up in the Senate version of immigration “reform” last summer. Because spending that kind of money to “secure” the border should be a non-starter in our current fiscal climate.