Using Technology to Protect America’s Southwest Borders

Technology is playing a huge role in protecting the US border from those trying to smuggle illegal substances and people into the country.

Every year, countless hopeful migrators try to illegally enter the United States by crossing the border of the country’s south western states –Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California. Often times, they are trying to smuggle dangerous materials, such as drugs and weapons as well.

There are 9 US Border Patrol sectors spread across the south west. Since the beginning of the millennium, technology has become a crucial aspect in trying to cease and prevent those from crossing the border illegally. There are intricate networks of technology – sensors, radars, cameras – that are set up on towers, in the ground, airborne, and so on, and are designed specifically to track and locate anyone who is trying to cross the border. One of the most active areas for illegal crossing and smuggling is the Tucson sector. The border is estimated to be 262 linear miles, and about 90,000 square miles of territory. Obviously, this is quite vast and, at times, can be difficult to patrol.

The US Border Patrol uses 9 tall towers – all equipped with sensors – which are used to scan the desert for movement. These sensors are made up of radar, as well as both daytime and infrared lights, which can track movement. Though the desert may seem flat from many angles, there are apparently a great deal of valleys and other “cuts” that many people use to hide out in. Four of the towers are right on the actual border, while five are within the border, in the instance that anyone happens to get through.

sensor towers - image courtesy of

sensor towers – image courtesy of

There are also many mobile surveillance systems, or MVSS, that roam the sector. According to an article found on, “These are similar packages of radar and cameras — plus a laser range finder — mounted on short masts atop trucks that are parked for long periods of time on top of hills that offer coverage of the desert that augments the towers. Agents rotate in and out of the MVSS, watching their areas, able to beam imagery back to Tucson, or zoom in on something they’ve been alerted to by headquarters.” Underground sensors are also used throughout the desert. These send an alert if movement is found within tens of meters. Movement can also be tracked from the air, with the help of drones, helicopters, and airplanes. The “high-tech sensors” that are used belong to US Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine.

Though technology is relied on heavily in protecting the border, officers still stand guard and maneuver throughout the desert on ATV’s, horses, and on foot. They are trained to become extremely familiar with the desert’s enormity. The US Border Patrol is aware of the fact that some smugglers actually do make it past all of the technology, and because of this, they have set up mobile checkpoints on roads throughout the desert. In this case, “non-intrusive technology”, such as wireless inspection cameras, and dogs are used to sniff out any potential threats or illegal substances that may have been smuggled over the border.

Due to the power of this technology, the number of people who are trying to illegally cross over has dropped drastically over the last decade or so. For instance, in 2000, the US Border Patrol was nabbing more than 2,000 people a day. Now, that number is closer to 300-350. With technology constantly evolving, there is no telling what advancements will be made to better protect our borders from these daily threats.

Quotes and additional information courtesy of

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