The U.S. Mexican Border
The U.S shares a 1,954-mile border with Mexico, of which 1.200 miles belongs to the state o f Texas. The U.S.-Mexico border is very porous with much illegal traffic of would be immigrants, liquor and drugs. The U.S.-Mexico border has the highest legal traffic of any international border in the world with about 5 million vehicles crossing it annually. Illegal immigration and the menace of drug cartels pose an immense threat to U.S. national security. It is the task of the U.S. Border Patrol keep the border secure and prevent illegal traffic from entering the country. Even though there are many thousands of border patrol agents, they are still insufficient to adequately cover the entire border region.
Hence Operation Drawbridge was launched by the Texas Border Sheriffs, the U.S. Border Patrols and the Texas land owners along the border. Operation Drawbridge uses detection technologies like video, cameras and sensors to collect images of illegal crossers and information of the smuggling area. It uses low cost, off-the-shelf technology and adapts it to meet the law enforcement requirements of the state of Texas and secures the U.S. frontier with Mexico. Whenever a Drawbridge is triggered, the image is automatically sent to the Texas DPS Border Security Operations Center in Austin. If the image is of illegal immigrants or drug mules it is saved and shared with all stakeholder agencies, which can swiftly move to interdict the trespassers.
With Operation Drawbridge, Texas Border Sheriffs have proven that live video coverage in remote and desert areas are effective in border protection. The cartels adjust quickly and simply move their operations to other areas, till they once again come under the radar with the equipment in those places. Wildlife cameras have motion detection and low light capabilities and are customized to meet strategic needs, with many hundreds of such cameras installed along the border. Operation Drawbridge has interoperable communication support with unified patrol for tactical operations. It also utilizes aviation and maritime assets with FLIR and night vision capabilities, which increase detection and interdiction. The Operation uses similar video technology to support Ranger Reconnaissance and tactical operations along the Rio Grande River because it enhances surveillance. It has been a challenge to increase the number of detection equipment and technology infrastructure along the entire border in an effective, economic and flexible manner.
These cameras and videos are monitored 24/7 by the Texas Border Security Operations Center, the Texas State Guard and Texas National Guard soldiers, the Texas Fusion Center, DPS Communications facilities, as well as the U.S. Border Patrol. The sophisticated software, which enables detection alerts to be simultaneously sent to all the agencies involved, was created by Texas DPS Information Technology personnel to reduce operational costs. It works out to approximately $300 per camera, and provides high-tech capability at a low cost. Operation Drawbridge protects private landowners, whose ranches adjoin the Mexican border, and its images are ample evidence of the threats of deadly drug smugglers these ranch owners constantly live with.
Operation Drawbridge was conceived at the time Texas saw an alarming prospect of illegal aliens, deadly smugglers and the consequent violence on Texas streets. When the governor of Texas initially decided to fund the installation cameras to detect illegal entry into his state, the media immediately condemned it as racist and hateful. When the cameras detected five of the first illegal entrants caught by Operation Drawbridge, the media again condemned the cameras for capturing the ‘victims’.
But the real drawback is wildlife cameras do not send a live video stream, and they are only triggered when something sets off the sensor. Once the receiver verifies the image, an e-mail alert is sent to the Border Patrol and other agencies working on the border. But the image is a still photograph and it often cannot be verified that the activity is illegal. A still image does not constitute the chain of evidence required legally. And the cell signals wildlife cameras rely on can be jammed by sophisticated Mexican drug cartels. Another aspect that is troubling some quarters is that the Texas Fusion Center is one of the monitoring partners of Operation Drawbridge. Some people are worried that local law enforcement is being increasingly shared with regional and federal agencies.
Operation Drawbridge is funded fully by Texas taxpayers. Its importance can be evaluated by the regular funding it receives from the state government to enhance its capabilities. Operation Drawbridge is a mini army, and is considered a strategic and vital element of U.S.-Mexico border security and Texas law enforcement. In 2012, Texas Department of Public Safety was presented $225,000 to add more equipment to the operational infrastructure. Last year, The Texas DPS received another grant of $120,000 to expand the motion detection camera system of Operation Drawbridge.
Since January 2012, Operation Drawbridge has made a substantial impact on the Cartels’ narcotic and human smuggling. By end of March of this year, Operation Drawbridge had detected more than 67,500 events of illegal crossing of the Texas-Mexico border, and its security personnel have apprehended more than 30,000 individuals and 58 tons of narcotics.