‘Virtual wall’ activates on southwest border with military help, congressman says
LAREDO, Texas (Border Report) – United States Customs and Border Protection has asked the Pentagon to oversee the placement of reconnaissance airships across the southwest border starting with every sector of Texas, said U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar to Border Report on Monday.
Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo and vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Appropriations Committee, said the CBP has requested the U.S. military’s assistance in deploying and monitoring the Tactical Aerostat Systems (TAS), as well as providing additional air and ground support on the border with Mexico.
“The DOD will also provide planes and balloons for each of the southern border sectors, which is good,” Cuellar said Monday from the banks of the Rio Grande overlooking Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. “The intention is to have it in all sectors, which they don’t have, but they will have it now – a virtual wall.”
In addition, the US Department of Homeland Security has also asked the military to provide air support and ground support in border areas, Cuellar said. This includes long-range persistent ground surveillance along the US-Mexico border.
âYou have aerostats, planes that the Defense Department will work with Homeland with and they will have other officers to support the mission by providing intelligence and surveillance,â Cuellar said.
Earlier this month, DHS announced it was ending all border wall contracts in Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas. But the Biden administration has maintained that regardless of border barriers, technology and a strong police presence are still needed to tackle illegal immigration, which hit an all-time high last year on the South Texas border.
Aerostats have long been deployed in the Rio Grande Valley, where half a dozen multi-million dollar aircraft have been positioned above the sky every day. But the sky-high costs caused almost every device to drop drastically last year in South Texas.
The program costs $ 30 million a year to operate six balloons in South Texas. That’s $ 5 million per balloon per year, or about $ 416,000 per month to operate each airship,
Cuellar had long criticized the hiring of private contractors – not US Border Patrol agents – to operate the devices, most of which are US Army surplus recycled after being used in Afghanistan.
The devices have also not been used in other border areas, such as El Paso or Del Rio, Texas, where 15,000 Haitians last month attempted to cross from Ciudad AcuÃ±a, Mexico.
But Cuellar says this technology will very soon help provide a virtual line of sight along the border thousands of feet in the air.
This will allow the police in the field and in the offices to better prepare and react to large groups that try to meet.
“These type of balloons can cover miles,” said Cuellar, who declined to disclose the specific types of balloons to be deployed for national security reasons.
During the influx of Haitians in September, DHS secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called for military support to quell what he called a “crisis” situation. It was the first time the agency had confirmed that it had asked the Pentagon for help securing the country’s border, according to the Washington Examiner.
Cuellar on Monday praised the Biden administration for following a border security route set out under the Obama administration and former Home Secretary Jeh Johnson, whose administration was the first to deploy aerostats to the border in 2014. And he declared that this was more necessary than ever, because a caravan with thousands of migrants, mostly Haitians, is organized in Tapachula, Mexico, on the southern border of the country. The trailer announced its departure on October 23 for the United States and most likely the southern border of Texas.
Military assistance will allow the DOD to resume all US Border Patrol aerostats operations. The agency had previously contracted with private balloon watch companies to deploy the devices, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a month to operate.
In addition to aerostats, CBP’s Air and Marine Operations Unit in McAllen, Texas, uses the C206 Night Owl aircraft “to support USBP’s efforts to detect, identify, classify and track cross-border activity.” documents provided by Cuellar to Frontier Report Show.
Border Report has contacted the Department of Homeland Security to request more specific information on the deployment of balloons and collaboration with the Department of Defense. This story will be updated if any information is received.
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