WASHINGTON - A 28-mile "virtual fence" that will use radar and surveillance cameras to try to catch people entering the country illegally has gotten final government approval.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced approval of the fence yesterday. Built by The
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The virtual fence is part of a national plan to secure the southwest border with physical barriers and high-tech detection capabilities intended to stop illegal immigrants on foot and drug smugglers in vehicles. As of Thursday, 302 miles of fencing had been constructed.
Chertoff said it is already working.
On Feb. 13, an officer in a Tucson command center, 70 miles from the border, noticed a group of about 100 people gathered at the border. The officer notified agents on the ground and in the air. Border Patrol caught 38 of the 100 people who tried to cross illegally, and the others went back into Mexico, said a Homeland Security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he isn't authorized to speak publicly.
The virtual fence system includes 98-foot unmanned surveillance towers that are equipped with an array of sophisticated technology, including radar, sensors, and cameras capable of distinguishing people from cattle at a distance of about 10 miles. The cameras are powerful enough to tell group sizes and whether people are carrying backpacks, which could contain weapons or drugs.
"I have personally witnessed the value of this system, and I have spoken directly to the Border Patrol agents who are involved in operating that system over the last few months and who have seen it produce actual results in terms of identifying and allowing the apprehension of people who are illegally smuggling across the border," Chertoff said.
Last year the government withheld some of Boeing's payments for the system because the technology the company used in the test project did not work properly. Boeing was also late in delivering the final product, known as Project 28.