Immigration reform will include increased security along the Mexican border, with proposals for more drones, more cameras and more boots on the ground.
Currently, a lesser but still impressive level of surveillance infrastructure and manpower is a constant presence in the lives of people living near the border.
Photo: Michel Marizco, Fronteras Desk
Jim McManus, on his farm in Arivaca.
One of them is Jim McManus, a Southern Arizona native who raises goats, pigs and chickens on a farm at Arivaca, 25 miles north of the border and 60 miles southwest of Tucson.
McManus has seen significant changes to border law enforcement. Mostly he’s noticed that the enforcement doesn’t sit on the actual border. It is all around him. He points at a hill north of his property.
“I spend the morning building up fences, putting things back, gathering up my cows, putting the horses where they need to be," Mcmanus said. "All the while, I’ve got Border Patrol and the sheriff parked on the hill watching me with glasses, treating me like I am the bad guy."
The region is under a level of federal surveillance seen nowhere else in the country. Driving his kids to school to a nearby town means McManus passes through two federal checkpoints - where he is briefly questioned - and 11 highway cameras monitored by federal drug agents.
Add to that the drones, surveillance planes and helicopters that regularly patrol the skies above Southern Arizona, and there are a lot of watchful eyes.
In the U.S. Senate's border security proposal, a compromise was reached, limiting drones to flights within three miles of California’s border. Not so for Arizona, Texas or New Mexico, where under the bill drones can fly 100 miles inland.
“There’s just not enough of us in the rest of this border region to be significant in the decision making on this,” McManus said.
It is all part of a plan aimed at achieving 24-7 border surveillance.
Terry Kirkpatrick lives in Tubac, to the southeast of McManus. A former Immigration and Customs Enforcement official, Kirkpatrick was skeptical that flooding the area with more agents will deter organized crime. He laid out all the border law enforcement that are already here.
“Oh, it’s astronomical,” he said, rattling off all the agencies: 2,000 federal agents, two county sheriff departments earning money from federal drug interdiction; more local police from inside Arizona. Sometimes, the National Guard.
“Something’s not working," Kirkpatrick said. "There’s something broken that we have that much manpower, that much surveillance in Santa Cruz County, which is the smallest county in Arizona, and we’re not able to stem anything.”
Civil rights organizations concede that the federal government has the right to surveillance within a certain distance of the border. But the quest for a secure border gets close to crossing the line, they said.
Sometimes, privacy advocates said, it crosses the line. Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation said her organization discovered that the Department of Homeland Security wasn’t only monitoring the highways and ports of entry but also were recording people’s movements in the larger border region, whether or not they crossed into Mexico.
“And then they’re sharing that data with state and local law enforcement as well," Lynch said. "We’ve seen this down in San Diego where the Border Patrol agents down there are collecting license plate data and sharing it with a regional database.”
Supporters of the Senate’s border surge amendment to beef up security believe it is a necessary compromise to pass immigration reform.
But not Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of the sponsors of the bipartisan Senate bill. He told CNN in June that the proposed buildup would make the border region "the most militarized zone since the Berlin Wall.”
While the region doesn’t need 20,000 more Border Patrol agents, McCain said, he does believe increased surveillance is necessary.
It is something that Jim McManus and his neighbors have gotten uncomfortably accustomed to.
“If you conduct business here, you live here, you’re always being watched, you’re always being stopped,” McManus said.