Predator Drones Now Patrol Half of US-Mexico Border

Since March 2013, US Border Patrol has flown over 10,000 drone missions along the US-Mexico border
Since March 2013, US Border Patrol has flown over 10,000 drone missions along the US-Mexico border. (Flickr)

EspañolThe United States is currently patrolling half of the US-Mexico border with drones, according to a recent report by the Associated Press.

The unmanned aircraft are the same Predator model used for strike operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, only equipped with cameras instead of missiles.

Since its inception in March 2013, so-called change detection operations have conducted close to 10,000 flights along the border. The drones sweep over remote terrain with high definition cameras every three days, capturing images which are then scanned for evidence of human presence — trash, clothes, tire tracks, or even broken twigs.

So far, 92 percent of drone flights have found no evidence of human traffickers or illegal migrants; 4 percent have resulted in false alarms; 2 percent are inconclusive; and the remaining 2 percent have shown evidence of illegal migration towards the United States.

Despite the low capture rate, Republican Congressman Michael McCaul recently praised the use of drones. “We can no longer focus only on static defenses such as fences and fixed (camera) towers,” he said.

Republican Senator Bob Corker likewise commented on the program, adding, “If there are better ways of ensuring the border is secure, I am certainly open to considering those options.”

According to El País, the drone program has already cost US taxpayers roughly US$250 million since 2012. Increased drone surveillance along the border comes at a time when President Barack Obama is considering heightened border security measures in the near future.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reports that, between 2006 and 2011, the drone program has aided in the capture of close to 5,000 illegal immigrants. In 2011 alone, authorities detained a total of 300,000 individuals at the US-Mexican border.

Lothar Eckardt, Customs and Border Protection’s executive director of national air security operations, said the program will not compromise the privacy of law-abiding people, since drone cameras are not capable of capturing license plate numbers or recognizing faces.

The US government plans to expand its border security drone program to the US-Canada border in 2015.

Sources: Associated Press, El País.

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