Congress is considering a request from the White House to use more Predator drones in southwestern states to stem the tide of immigrants coming across the United States' southern border.
Within the White House's $3.7 billion request to take on the current immigration crisis, with children crossing the border in record numbers, $39.4 million is dedicated to air surveillance with 16 additional crews to operate and maintain drones, reported NBC News
"Border Patrol wants the money and it wants the drones," Gregory McNeal, a law professor and drone expert at Pepperdine University, told NBC News. "This is the kind of crisis where, if you are Border Patrol, you seize the opportunity to get more funding from Congress."
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A typical Predator drone can fly for 12 hours before landing, compared to three for a standard helicopter, making it a favorite for law enforcement, despite the price tag.
"This is a better way to patrol the border than helicopters," McNeal told NBC News. "It’s not a comprehensive immigration solution or border security solution, but more surveillance time in the air will help plug gaps in the border.
The Washington Post reported
in January that Customs and Border protection already has the largest U.S. drone fleet except for the defense department. The Electronic Frontier Fountain, a civil-liberties group, told the Post it found that the border officials flew nearly 700 surveillance missions on behalf of other agencies from 2010 to 2012, using information gathered from the Freedom of Information Act.
Despite the man-hour benefits, civil liberty groups are still leery of drone use, the Post stated.
"Because (drones) have sophisticated cameras and can remain in flight for many hours at a time, drones create novel privacy challenges," wrote Craig Whitlock and Craig Timberg of the Washington Post.
"Civil libertarians have argued that these aircraft could lead to persistent visual surveillance of Americans on private property. Government lawyers have argued, however, that there is no meaningful legal distinction between the use of unmanned and piloted aircraft for surveillance," Whitlock and Timberg continued.
William Hartung, of the Center for International Policy, told NBC News he believed drones were not worth the money in efforts to protect the border.
"They are basically the equivalent of very good flying cameras, but they can't be everywhere all the time," Hartung wrote.
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