IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

New Bill Calls for Tech Improvements at U.S. Border

U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, who represents 180 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, is calling on the Department of Homeland Security to conduct an analysis of ways to improve border security using available technology.

San Ysidro Border Crossing
Vehicles lined up for US immigration and customs processing at the border entry point in San Ysidro, California.
(TNS) — U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M. — a congresswoman who represents 180 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border — is calling on the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a comprehensive analysis of ways to improve border security using available technology.

"Since day one, I've been advocating for a mile-by-mile analysis of our border security needs," Torres Small said. "The border is complex … It's different depending on where you are on the ground."

On Aug. 5, the congresswoman introduced the Southwest Border Security Technology Improvement Act of 2020 as a bill into the House of Representatives. A mirror bill has been introduced in the Senate by Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, with Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

Never miss a story. Subscribe to the Las Cruces Sun-News.

Torres Small's House bill is cosponsored by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., and Rep. Michael Cloud, R-Texas.

The bill would require DHS to undertake an analysis to determine technological needs and gaps along the southwest border — spanning Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California — which if filled could improve security by curbing trafficking, smuggling and other cross-border criminal activity.

The bill says DHS should assess radio and broadband communications equipment, intelligence gathering and sharing and infrastructure such as physical barriers.

In rural border areas "we have border patrol agents, local law enforcement officers who struggle with basic communication because of the lack of technology and infrastructure out there," Torres Small said.

DHS should study recent technological advances, the bill states, to determine if those could improve border security. According to the bill, some advances include manned aircraft sensors and unmanned aircraft, surveillance equipment including tower-based surveillance technology, non-intrusive inspection systems and technology that detects tunnels.

"In our most rural stretches of the border, one of the biggest challenges is there are smugglers and other folks who cross the border who are trying to avoid detection," the congresswoman said. "Tracking them through rural areas are some of the hardest parts."

More: Border rancher deals with more property damage from criminal activity south of Deming, NM

Torres Small said drones or towers that can allow officials to survey vast swaths of the border could stem activity in rural areas. The analysis would also look at ports of entry.

The bill states DHS should develop a plan to use departmental resources to meet those needs, which should include a cost-benefit analysis, she said. But the bill doesn't require the implementation of the plan, she added. That would have to be done with future appropriations.

Torres Small said a technological analysis like the one the bill calls for hasn't been done.

Torres Small is a proponent of border security, having pushed for a bill to implement 100 percent usage of NII systems at land ports of entry, pushed to boost staffing in rural, remote stretches of the border with Mexico and pushed to create a new U.S. Border Patrol position strictly for providing administrative support for processing migrants.

Asked if she thought increased border security and surveillance technology could be abused by officials under the Trump administration, which has been hawkish on both illegal and legal immigration, Torres Small said a fundamental part of border security is a "clear and moral immigration system," a goal she said she's been working toward.

"That is something we have to recognize. That's also part of addressing the challenges that we face along our border," Torres Small said. "But that also means we have to secure our border as well."

Sinema's bill recently cleared the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and awaits a vote in the Senate.

“Our bipartisan bill improves border security technology to help strengthen security and keep Arizona safe,” said Sinema in a news release.

Torres Small touted not just the bill's bipartisan appeal in Congress, but widespread appeal in key stakeholder groups. According to a news release, the bill is backed by the National Border Patrol Council, the Border Trade Alliance and the National Treasury Employees Union, which represents U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations officers.

©2020 the Las Cruces Sun-News (Las Cruces, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.