The entire 2,000-mile US-Mexico border will be monitored by drones starting Wednesday when a new Predator drone begins flying from Corpus Christi, Texas, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said.
There are already three drones operating along portions of the border. Aside from the new drone launched today, money for two more was included in $600 million legislation President Barack Obama signed earlier this month, which ramps up border security ahead of midterm elections on Nov. 2 and as Mexico’s heated drug war gains more attention. Meanwhile, Napolitano calls the border safer than ever.
“With the deployment of the Predator in Texas, we will now be able to cover the southwest border from the El Centro sector in California all the way to the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, providing critical aerial surveillance assistance to personnel on the ground,” Napolitano said during a conference call, according to Reuters.
“This is yet another critical step we have taken in ensuring the safety of the border and is an important tool in our security toolbox,” she said.
Previously, the drones had covered only California to the west Texas portion of the border, according to the Associated Press.
By the beginning of next year, six should be operating along the border, covering California, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.
The Predator B drones that are being deployed have night-vision cameras and can stay in flight for 30 hours, detecting drug and human smuggling, Reuters added.
Bloomberg reported that Napolitano addressed the administration’s focus on deporting those with criminal records.
On the call, Napolitano said the administration has focused the country’s border strategy on criminals who have entered the US illegally. Currently, half of deported illegal immigrants were convicted of a crime, she said. That compares [read pdf report from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement] with 34 percent of those deported in June 2009.
The August legislation signed by Obama also sends 1,200 National Guardsmen to the border, the first of which begin arriving in Arizona this week. Texas is to receive 250 national guardsmen, which Gov. Rick Perry (R), who is up for re-election, has said is not enough. He has asked for 1,000 guardsmen to be sent to Texas alone, the San Antonio Express-News reports.
Texas Republican congressmen sent a letter to Obama this week in support of Perry’s guardsmen request and called the president’s current plan “woefully inadequate,” the Express-News reported.
But the legislation and the addition of drones come at a time when Napolitano also calls the border region safer than ever; “numbers don’t lie,” she said, according to The New York Times.
But the near-daily news of fresh violence in Mexico, such as the finding of a massacre site in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas last week, has increased fears about violence south of the border. Seventy-two migrants from Central and South America – including a pregnant woman – who were trying to enter the US were found killed, presumably by a drug gang that tried to force them to become recruits. It was the largest massacre in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón took office in late 2006 and deployed the army to fight organized crime. About 28,000 have been killed in the years since
The massacre confirmed what analysts have begun to suspect, The Christian Science Monitor reports: gangs are diversifying their criminal activities and targeting groups other than just rival drug traffickers.