Some of the state’s top lawmakers are touting a Scottsdale company’s high-tech radar system as the first step to stemming the flow of illegal immigrants into Arizona.
A Tribune reporter accompanied seven lawmakers who flew to a U.S. Marine Corps air station in Yuma on Wednesday for a system demonstration. After the tour, all seven said the technology should be used as soon as possible along the state’s border with Mexico — even though they don’t know how it would be funded.
"Not to do something is to destroy America," said Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa. "We know this is affordable, it’s just a matter of doing it. So let’s do it."
Along with Pearce were House Speaker James Weiers, R-Phoenix; Senate Majority Leader Timothy Bee, RTucson; Sen. Jim Waring, RPhoenix; Rep. Stephen Tully, R-Paradise Valley; Rep. Tom Boone, R-Glendale; and Rep. Amanda Aguirre, D-Yuma.
Scottsdale-based Sensor Technologies and Systems’ radar system works using radar and video cameras. The radar detects movement, and the person monitoring the radar can point the camera in the direction of the movement.
One radar unit, which monitors an area of six miles, has been in use at the air station since May 2004.
In that time, the U.S. Border Patrol has apprehended more than 4,300 undocumented immigrants as a direct result of the radar system and countless immigrants have been detoured to other crossing points outside of the monitored area, said Capt. Terry Johnson of the air station.
"Deterrence is equal to the certainty that you will be caught," Johnson said. "And they know if they go there, they will be caught."
The air station, which hosts 80 percent of the Marine Corps’ air-to-ground training aviation in the country, will install three newer radar units by Thanksgiving to replace the older one, Johnson said.
Together, the devices will cover 18 miles and will cost $1.3 million, including installation, said Walker Butler, CEO and president of Sensor.
The systems are being used at U.S. military bases and an Israeli town, Butler said.
"We know hours ahead of time where the immigrants will cross, and we keep track of them after they cross," he said. "If we track them with radar and we’ve got a camera on them, we can tell what those illegals are doing."
The radar units are white and look like large boxes atop 50- to 100-foot poles or mounts.
Butler said he wants his units installed along the entire 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, except in cities or extremely rugged mountain areas where the detectors don’t work as well.
The total cost of the units, including installation, would run between $150 million to $200 million for the entire border; it would cost $50 million to $75 million to install them in Arizona, Butler said.
In July, a top regional official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told the Tribune the radar system was among the technologies that should have been paid for by border security funds misspent by Congress. Charles Cape, the zone manager for the agency’s wireless initiative in the region, said that when he was sent to Arizona, he expected $20 million would be available for immediate border fixes, including partial funding for the radar system.
Cape said the money, most of which was to be spent on improving radio equipment, was spent on other projects in violation of congressional directives.
Pearce and Weiers said they would ask the Department of Homeland Security to pay for the radar system.
"We’ll go to the federal government first," Weiers said. "If there’s not the will or the way, we’ll find the ability to do it on our own."
In addition to the funding challenge, the U.S. Border Patrol’s nearly 3,000 agents are not enough to man the system and respond to the immigrants it detects, said Mark Rios, a field operations supervisor with the Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector.
"We’d have to increase the number of agents," he said.