The Department of Homeland Security says that Boeing Corp. is the winner of a contract for new border-surveillance technology. Boeing proposes to develop a system of video and heat- and motion-sensors that would feed information about border activity into a central database.
Construction of the first part of the "virtual fence" is planned for the Arizona border within the next year.
There was fierce competition for the contract, which is eventually expected to reach more than $2 billion over the next few years. Neither Boeing nor the Deparment of Homeland Security will confirm the company's selection, but congressional aides and industry sources say the choice has been made.
Wayne Esser led Boeing's contract bid. He says the company's proposal envisions a communications network using some 1,800 towers constructed across both the northern and southern borders.
The technology used in the security effort, Esser says, will include "towers with fairly high powered radars and cameras, electrical optical infrared cameras" that can detect attempts to cross the border at night.
But still, there are plenty of skeptics in Congress and elsewhere who say that the project — part of something called the Secure Border Initiative — will actually work.
T. J. Bonner is the president of the National Border Patrol Council, which represents 11,000 border patrol agents. He says those agents are already overwhelmed. He doesn't think the new technology will have much imipact unless something is done to get at the the main reason so many people try to enter the United States illegally.
"As long as we're not cracking down on the employers, people will continue coming across the border, regardless of the number of cameras or fences that you have," Bonner says.
The Bush administration agrees. It says the new system needs to be part of a bigger border-control effort, one that includes immigration policy changes such as a temporary worker program. But for now, some of those efforts are taking a backseat to the idea of building a virtual fence.