Southwestern states are seeking ways to deal with border security over concerns that there is inadequate federal assistance dealing with illegal immigration, and human and drug trafficking continue to impact security and budgets.
"The federal government has let them down," David Inserra, a Heritage Foundation research assistant for national security and cybersecurity, told Newsmax. "I think the states are in a tough spot right now. Many are doing good work but there is not too much they can do about it if the federal government chooses not to enforce the law."
In Texas, numerous candidates are running political campaigns pledging to be tough on border control.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott, the state's attorney general, has made the issue a central one in his campaign against Democratic nominee Wendy Davis, a Texas state legislator.
Abbott wants to double spending on border protection, calling for what he describes as a "continuous" surge of 1,000 new officers using the best technology to enforce safety for Texas.
Abbott's two-year plan costs about $300 million and is geared at staffing what he describes as a "permanent border shield," the Texas Tribune reported.
Texas has already spent about $800 million over several years to beef up border security.
"We must do more to protect our border going beyond sporadic surges,” Abbott told the Tribune. "As governor I will almost double the spending for Department of Public Safety border security. I'll add more boots on the ground, more assets in the air and on the water, and deploy more technology and tools for added surveillance."
In Arizona, lawmakers are no longer willing to wait on Washington to help with border security and have proposed building a $30 million "virtual" fence along the state's border with Mexico.
A state House panel approved the virtual fence measure on Feb. 17, creating a plan to put high-tech radar and video sensors along the 350 miles of border in an effort to better monitor crossings by illegal immigrants, as well as crack down on drug trafficking into the United States.
Some in Arizona are skeptical the action would stymie border crossings, but say its creation is in response to Washington's lack of assistance to help state officials curb drug mules and human traffickers who use the state as a pathway into the country.
The fence bill, SB 1106, was proposed by state Sen. Bob Worsley, a Republican from Mesa.
Worsley said the plan would use radar sensors, described as the size of a standard cereal box, along with solar-power units mounted on 300 towers and video cameras that can survey the landscape.
Anyone with an Internet connection would be able to see what was happening along the border.
"It's time that we have our own way to verify what we're being told by the Department of Homeland Security," Worsley told The Associated Press of his plan.
States have good reason to step up protection efforts, Heritage Foundation's Inserra said.
"Certainly, the cartels, the transnational criminal organizations that operate in Mexico, essentially go through the border to smuggle in drugs, weapons, and people, and these cartels are not friendly," Inserra said. "They are terrible organizations that inflict death and all sorts of heinous crimes on individuals, both inside the U.S. and also in Mexico.
"By us not securing the border, we are allowing these groups to essentially come and go as they please. This is encouraging more illegal activity along the border, and these border states are largely the ones who have to deal with the direct impact of these crimes."
Inserra said a Heritage study found that unlawful immigrants residing in border states draw more in benefits than they pay in taxes.
"There is definitely an added cost for security and safety," Inserra said. "These states have had to spend a larger share of their budgets dealing with crimes caused by unlawful immigrants."
Illegals who are arrested are often turned over to federal immigration officials, who are reluctant to enforce the law, leaving the states to "hold the bag," Inserra said.
Observers who have visited the border note that Border Patrol agents are vastly understaffed and hamstrung in what they are allowed to do in surveillance and apprehension.
Charles Heller, one of the original members of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, told Newsmax the Arizona bill highlights "how ineffective our protection there is."
The real purpose of such a "virtual" fence, Heller said, "is so that everyone who sits at home on the computer can see that we have a problem with an illegal alien invasion so they will put pressure on the federal government to pay attention to the problem.
"Is spending $30 million to embarrass the federal government into actually enforcing the law a bad investment? Probably not," said Heller, who has patrolled the border alongside federal agents.
Brian Johnson, a member of the non-profit education organization Arizona Border Defenders, which functions as a civilian border patrol group, calls the illegal operations of immigrants coming into the state "pretty sophisticated."
"They talk in codes," Johnson said, noting that his group monitors communications and goes into the desert for search and rescue missions, helping to spot illegals and assist border patrol agents to determine where those people might be traveling.
His group numbers about 150 members, mostly near Tucson, with a core group of 30 who go out every two to three weeks to patrol the desert.
"Overall it's a good idea," Johnson said of a "virtual" fence effort.
"But [sensors and cameras] can't stop anyone," he said. "They will let you know that someone is coming across, but you still need somebody to go out there and stop them."
Even a physical fence, he added, means little if there is no backup to turn those crossing the border around.
"Basically, we need more border patrol people. We have sensors out there already. We report that to the border patrols, but I would say these people don't get caught 50 percent of the time because there isn't enough manpower to apprehend them," Johnson told Newsmax.
Current border agents already use sensors and cameras to help them do their work.
"They do a good job," Johnson said. "If the state of Arizona were to put their own towers out there, they might be able to reduce some of the border patrol manpower, but basically what it boils down to is we need more agents to back those sensors."
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