An immigration bill introduced late Wednesday afternoon by four House Republicans includes attempts to balance deployments of physical barriers and technology for border security purposes, including technologies at and between ports of entry.
The Securing America’s Future Act (H.R. 4760) shows that at least some key Republicans in Congress don’t believe a wall along southern border needs to extend from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and that an array of technology assets need to be employed to help with securing the border.
The bill would authorize the deployment of physical barriers and related tactical infrastructure, which typically consists of things like roads and lighting, but not “in any area or region along the border where natural terrain features, natural barriers, or the remoteness of such area or region would make any such deployment ineffective.” The legislation does give latitude to the Secretary of Homeland Security for making the determination of where barriers wouldn’t be worth it.
The bill was introduced by Reps. Michael McCaul (Texas) and Bob Goodlatte (Va.), the chairman of the Homeland Security and Judiciary Committees respectively, Martha McSally (Ariz.), chairwoman of the Border and Maritime subcommittee of the Homeland Security Committee, and Raul Labrador (Idaho), chairman of the Judiciary’s Border Security subcommittee.
By the end of FY ’22, the bill directs technology solutions be deployed along the border that are the “most practical and effective” and provide “situational awareness and operational control of the border.”
Technology solutions include tower-based surveillance systems, aerostats to provide ground surveillance, airborne Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radars, also called VADER, tunnel detection systems, 3D seismic acoustic sensors, unattended surveillance sensors, vehicle and man-portable surveillance systems, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), and other detection, communication and surveillance technology.
For UAV operations, the bill directs that systems operate along the southern border for 24 hours a day for five days each week.
All of the technologies mentioned in the bill are already deployed or are in use to one degree or another, but the Trump administration in its budget requests has favored funding for physical barriers at the expense of border security technology. So far, Congressional appropriators have gone along with the requests.
The bill does authorize specific technology deployments by Border Patrol sector. For example, in the San Diego Sector, which includes 60 miles of land border with Mexico and 114 miles of coastal border along the Pacific Ocean, the legislation calls for tower-based surveillance systems, subterranean surveillance and detection technologies, capabilities to detect ultra light aircraft, advanced unattended surveillance sensors, a rapid reaction capability supported by aviation assets, man-portable UAVs, mobile vehicle-mounted and man-portable surveillance systems, improved agent communication capabilities, and for improved maritime domain awareness, aerostats, UAVs, coastal radars, patrol aircraft, and signals intelligence.
At land ports of entry on the northern and southern borders, the bill wants existing license plate readers to be upgraded for inbound and outbound lanes, and an operational demonstration of high-throughput technology for non-invasive imaging of passenger vehicles deployed to at least three land ports on the southern border.
The bill also directs DHS to provide Congress with an implementation plan for a biometric exit system, which has been mandated Congress more than once. Customs and Border Protection is currently evaluating facial recognition technology at nine airports in the U.S. for meeting this mandate but hasn’t provided a plan for specific deployments to airports across the country. The agency is working with airlines and airports to have them pay for the cameras at boarding gates for international flights, while CBP provides the backend biometric matching capability. The agency has said it could take four years to complete deployment of a biometric exit system at airports.
If the bill is enacted, it gives DHS two years from that point to deploy biometric exit systems at the 15 busiest U.S. airports by international travel volume, 10 U.S. seaports with the highest volume of sea travel, and the 15 busiest land ports.