Border Fence Sees Progress

Border fence sees progress

Associated Press Writers
Dec. 6, 2007,

WASHINGTON The administration's plan to use technology and physical barriers to keep people from illegally entering the country is back on track this week.

A virtual fence along a 28-mile stretch of Arizona will get the government's conditional stamp of approval Friday, allowing it to move into the next testing phase.

Earlier this year Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff withheld partial payment to contractor Boeing Co. because the technology the company used in a pilot project near Tucson, Ariz., did not work properly.

Also this week, Chertoff will tell landowners along 225 non-contiguous miles stretching from California to Texas that they have 30 days to give the government permission to access to their properties. The government needs the approval to determine whether it's even possible to build a fence on their land. If landowners do not agree within 30 days, Homeland Security will issue temporary condemnation orders to gain access.

As of Tuesday, 200 landowners had not given the department permission to access their properties, according to a Homeland Security official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the subject. Most of the landowners who have not given approval are in Texas and Arizona.

The 225 miles of physical fencing and the 28-mile virtual fence are part of the government's plan to keep people from illegally entering the U.S. If the 28-mile virtual fence is successful, elements of it could be used as a prototype along other parts of the southern and northern borders. The project is being tested in Arizona because over much of the last decade, more illegal immigrants have crossed from Mexico through the state than anywhere else on the border.

The virtual fence includes 98-foot unmanned towers that are equipped with an array of sophisticated technology including radar, sensor devices and cameras capable of distinguishing people from cattle at a distance of about 10 miles.

Homeland Security has said the cameras are powerful enough to tell group sizes and whether people are carrying weapons and backpacks full of drugs.

But software glitches have kept the array from providing a common operating picture with global positioning information to Border Patrol command centers as well as to agents with laptops in their vehicles stationed in the area to intercept intruders.

The government paid Boeing $15 million of its initial $20 million contract before determining during the summer that there were glitches. Over the next 45 days Border Patrol agents will be testing the system, and if agents are satisfied, they will accept the project. If there are problems, Boeing will be asked to fix them.

By the end of 2008, Homeland Security plans to complete 370 miles of pedestrian fencing intended to stop illegal immigrants on foot, and 300 miles of vehicle barriers to stop drug smugglers on the southwest border. As of Sept. 30 of this year, 145 miles of fence were complete.


Arthur H. Rotstein reported from Tucson.