Border Web cameras along Texas-Mexico border go online again

Published 21 November 2007

Texas governor Rick Perry found the funds to have virtual watch up and running — again — as early as January; Texans can register to have 200 border cameras feed images to their home PCs; if they see people crossing the border, the can call or e-mail authorities

How to secure the U.S.-Mexico border is a contentious issue in the United States — and a hot political potato. Keeping an eye on thousands of miles of border is not easy, and the only way to do it effectively is to rely on advanced technology. We note, therefore, that keeping watch over the border may once again become as easy as logging onto the Internet. Texas governor Rick Perry has identified $3 million in federal funding to restore a short-lived but highly publicized “virtual border watch” program which allows Internet users to access video feeds from cameras set up along the border.The Houston Chronicle’s Rosanna Ruis writes that as early as January, viewers may have access to feeds from some of the 200 cameras strategically located along the Texas-Mexico border. These viewers, from the comfort of their dens, will be able to alert authorities if they think they see immigrants illegally crossing the border. Perry sought out more funding after seeing the benefits of a monthlong, $200,000 pilot of the program in late 2006, said Allison Castle, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office. “We know these cameras secured our borders,” she said. “We want to get them up and running as soon as possible.”

The governor first mentioned the program during his 2006 re-election bid but failed to win approval from lawmakers during the last session. The project, one of several measures intended to curb the flow of illegal immigration in Texas, is the first of its kind to be sponsored by a state government. Among the other steps being taken in Texas: Constructing a 700-mile border fence, hiring more border patrol agents, and launching a zero-tolerance policy to detain, rather than simply deport, all illegal immigrants caught near Laredo. During the Web-based pilot program, more than 220,000 people registered to view images from cameras placed primarily on private land and displayed at the Texas Border Watch Web site. They clicked on individual cameras nearly 28 million times and sent more than 13,000 e-mails to state officials, which the government said helped lead to the arrests of at least ten illegal immigrants and to the seizure of drugs, according to the Web site. Supporters say this type of virtual wall might be more practical and less costly than a 700-mile border fence. “It’s great to use technology to try to enforce our immigration laws rather than a fence that costs up to $3 million a mile,” said El Paso mayor John Cook. “You can put up a whole lot more cameras for $3 million.”

Border patrol agents in El Paso already use cameras to help keep tabs on illegal crossing sites, Cook said. The federal government’s slow response and a shortage of border patrol agents, he said, may have prompted Perry to take the issue into his own hands. Some immigration and civil rights advocates fear the program may promote even more vigilantism and violence along the border. “The open invitation for every member of the public to get involved in immigration enforcement can be a problem when you have people with violent tendencies,” said Nina Perales, regional counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.