Construction has begun on towers for the final version of the virtual fence project in southern Arizona, and project leader Mark Borkowski said Tuesday he’s confident the multibillion dollar will system work well.
Borkowski, executive director of the Homeland Security Department’s Secure Border Initiative program office, said he’s 75 to 80 percent confident in the engineering of the revamped project.
“And I have higher confidence than that that if there were issues, they’d be issues that we could solve,” he said.
Plans call for extending the towers along almost the entire Mexican border by 2014 — at a cost estimated at $6.7 billion.
President Obama has not requested that money, nor has Congress appropriated it — yet.
“Right now, the administration and the Congress are both very interested in continuing this program,” Borkowski said. “What level will it be at — $200 million a year or will it be $2 billion a year? That’s part of the broader national debate about what are the priorities and budgets. But there seems to be a continued interest and priority in this at some reasonable level.”
The virtual fence is designed to use radar and cameras with about a six-mile range, including infrared devices and other technologies, to detect smuggling attempts. The sensors are designed to be able to distinguish people from animals and allow operators to direct Border Patrol agents to intruders.
The first section will cover about 53 miles of Arizona’s border with Mexico, with additional towers, up to 120 feet tall and spaced miles apart, to follow on the remaining 320 miles of the state’s southern border. Virtual fencing then will go up in New Mexico, followed by California and most of Texas.
Borkowski said towers with cameras, radars and sensors and communications gear won’t stop people or substitute for a physical fence. But he said it will tell the Border Patrol where people are entering the country illegally.
“Technology’s not going to secure the borders,” Borkowski said. “Frankly, the personnel fundamentally are going to secure the borders.”