Border expo highlights issues, features technology

Published 22 May 2008

Speakers at an important border security conference and expo highlight major border security and immigration monitoring topics, while more than one hundred companies exhibit the latest border control technology

In the days immediately before state officials
removed more than 460 children from the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado
amid charges of widespread sexual abuse, a UAV showed investigators what they
could not see on the other side of the compound’s 15-foot walls. The unmanned
aircraft shot nighttime and daytime surveillance video of the compound at the
request of the Texas Rangers, according to its maker, San Antonio-based Mission
Technologies. The potential uses of the aircraft are limited “seemingly by
only how big and clever your imagination is,” Paul Ramirez, a Mission
representative, said Wednesday at the Global Border Security Conference and
Technology Expo in Austin, where
the UAV and the compound video were on display. So are all sorts of high-tech
products, many of them with similar gee-whiz factors — robotic vehicles;
hand-held, biometric devices with fingerprint and iris-matching capabilities;
armored-steel, off-road vehicles. The second annual event, which opened yesterday
and closes today at the Austin Convention
Center, bills itself as the nation’s
leading conference and expo on international border security. In addition to
vendors, it attracts government officials, elected and business leaders, and
technology industry experts who discuss a broad range of issues. On Wednesday,
Mexican deputy attorney general José Luís Santiago Vasconcelos outlined a
dramatic revamping of Mexico’s
criminal justice system that seeks to bring more transparency to the process.
Today the head of the Texas Border Coalition, Eagle
Pass mayor Chad Foster, is scheduled to speak
on the merits of a border wall vs. a virtual fence. The latter employs
technology, such as aerial surveillance and ground sensors, to fight drug and
human trafficking and illegal immigration.

Last week, the border coalition sued DHS to stop
construction of a fence, accusing federal officials of not informing private
landowners that they could negotiate the price for federal use of their land.
The coalition, made up of Texas border
mayors and business and elected leaders, has long opposed a border wall.
“We will have the open discussion about the human toll, the economic toll
and the social and cultural toll that border security or the lack thereof might
create” said Rich Phillips, president of Phillips & Company, an
Austin-based marketing and consulting firm that is on the conference’s advisory
board. But he acknowledged that a focus this week would be on promoting
business opportunities. This was reflected on the conference’s site, which
appealed to vendors and business people. Noting that border and immigration
security will continue to be a top priority for DHS, it states: “Billions
to be spent this year on border security. Are you securing your share of this

Some immigrant rights advocates think this is
insensitive. “I think they’re looking at the (immigration) issue as a
money game. They don’t recognize the human cost,” said Caroline
Keating-Guerra, with the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition. Keating-Guerra said
the coalition plans to demonstrate outside the center today to call attention
to immigrant deaths on the border and in detention. According to Coalición de
Derechos Humanos, a Tucson-based group, more than 4,000 immigrants have died
along the U.S.-Mexico border since the mid-1990s. Tom Cellucci, chief
commercialization officer with DHS who spoke to vendors Wednesday about how to
approach the agency for business opportunities, said it makes sense to have the
commercial sector develop the products it needs, built to government
specifications. “The private sector has far more creativity, experience
and knowledge in developing” products, Cellucci said.