SIERRA VISTA, Ariz, Dec 27 - U.S.
authorities took possession of an additional high-tech
surveillance drone on Tuesday to overfly
the rugged Arizona borderlands to look for drug smugglers and
illegal immigrants crossing from Mexico.
The Predator-B drone is based at the National Air
Security Operations Center in Sierra Vista, a few miles north of
the Mexico border in southeast Arizona, the U.S. Customs and
Border Protection agency said.
The addition brings CBP's fleet of surveillance drones
along the nearly 2,000-mile southwest border with Mexico to six.
Four are based at the Arizona center, and two more overfly the
border from Corpus Christi, Texas.
"The missions from these two centers will allow CBP to
deploy its unmanned aircraft from the eastern tip of California
across the common Mexican land borders of Arizona, New Mexico,
and Texas," CBP said in a statement.
The unmanned aircraft are equipped with tools including
powerful day and night vision cameras which enable operators to
spot incursions by drug traffickers and illegal immigrants
slipping over the border from Mexico.
The surveillance operations under the program have led
to the seizure of around 46,600 pounds of illicit drugs and
7,500 arrests along the southwest border.
This past year, arrests of illegal immigrants crossing
north over the southwest border dropped to 327,577, their lowest
level since 1972 when President Richard Nixon was in the White
Factors in the stark decline have included tightened
border and workplace enforcement, a slowed U.S. economy
providing fewer jobs to undocumented workers, and increased drug
cartel-related violence in Mexico making the journey north more
hazardous, according to analysts.
The arrival of the Predator-B marks the second of two
unmanned aircraft earmarked in supplemental budget provisions
identified in August 2010.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Jerry Norton)
(Reporting By John O'Callaghan)
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