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By: Gaby Del Valle
Photos: Ash Ponders



8.3.22
In the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, Border Patrol spent billions on high-tech surveillance. All the drones, cameras, and manpower do little to deter migrants from trying to cross the border — it only makes the journey deadlier.
















It’s
unlikely
the

hikers
knew
they
were
being
watched.
They
had
tried
to
blend
in:
all
11
were
wearing
camouflage
with
the
intention
of
vanishing
into
the
desert
scrub.
They
were
on
a
remote
mountain
trail
on
the
outskirts
of
Ajo,
Arizona,
a
former
mining
town
of
about
3,000
people
just
a
few
dozen
miles
north
of
the
Mexican
border.
It
was
a
warm
November
morning,
still
early
enough
in
the
day
that
the
sun
must
have
felt
good
on
their
skin

the
air
is
cold
up
in
the
mountains,
colder
still
in
the
dry
desert
winter,
though
the
heat
always
finds
you
eventually.
The
sky
was
bright
and
endless,
punctuated
by
just
a
few
clouds.
But
even
if
the
migrants
looked
closely,
there’s
no
way
they
could
have
noticed
the
MQ-9
Predator
B
drone
stalking
them
from
20,000
feet
above.

Nearly 150 miles away at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona, the migrants were on display. Two Customs and Border Protection agents tracked the group from a cramped shipping container on base that was being used as a temporary ground control station. Each agent sat before five monitors: the pilot flew the drone while the camera operator focused on tracking the group’s movements. The 11 migrants appeared as small figures on a pair of screens, bright white smudges moving across a gray background. Their clothing may have helped them blend in with the cholla cacti and spiky ocotillo plants of the Sonoran Desert, but it couldn’t fool the Predator’s infrared camera. They had been betrayed by their own body heat.

The migrants must have noticed the helicopter first: an EC-120 Colibrí, Spanish for “hummingbird.” Then came a pair of Border Patrol agents on foot. “On your tail, there’s another group of two, probably about 50 yards behind you,” the camera operator in Tucson told one of the ground agents by radio.

Then he turned to me and explained what we were looking at. “That’s the agent,” he said, pointing at a vaguely person-shaped silhouette on one of the screens. He had to raise his voice so I could hear him over the endless hum of the servers that took up half the 16-by-20-foot room. “He just apprehended that guy, and that’s the group right there.” We watched as one member of the group tried to wrestle the Border Patrol agent. The others walked toward him, ready to give up.

CBP agents monitor remote camera feeds from scores of cameras.


From the shipping container, it was impossible to know anything about the group aside from what was visible on-screen. They could have been from Guatemala or El Salvador or Mexico or anywhere else. They could have been asylum seekers or drug runners or neither. Maybe it was their first time trekking through the desert; maybe it was their fifth. Maybe they were headed for Phoenix or Boston or for one of those tiny towns that have become Central American enclaves through the availability of agricultural jobs and word of mouth. These details were irrelevant to the CBP drone operators watching the migrants from Tucson, the Border Patrol agents tracking them through the mountains, and the crew following along in the helicopter. Their job was to find and apprehend anyone crossing the border illegally, no matter who they were.

https://www.theverge.com/c/23203881/border-patrol-wall-surveillance-tech


Post ID: 102f7ccd-430a-4205-bf8e-c97b101a3f4d
Rating: 1
Updated: 22 hours ago
Mexico City, Ciudad de México

Seattle, Washington
Member since Feb 2021

Posted in categories:
U.S.

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