By Suleika Zepeda, Research Intern, Center for Strategic Research
The Obama administration recently canceled the “virtual fence” along the US-Mexico border, a key component of the U.S. Secure Border Initiative. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the virtual fence (also known as SBI-Net) “does not meet current standards for viability and cost effectiveness.” SBI-Net’s pilot program in Arizona used sophisticated technology and improved infrastructure to guard against illegal immigration and cross-border smuggling. The SBI-Net envisioned a complex system of sensors, radars, and cameras mounted on towers in an effort to gain better surveillance of the 2,000 mile border. The replacement system relies on less expensive, readily available technology already being used by the Border Patrol and other DHS agencies. SBI-Net funding actually was halted in March 2010, but government officials made slow progress in canceling the project because of the administration’s controversial debate with Congress on border security. Republican lawmakers say they will not support immigration reform until border security is improved, but there is not a clear understanding of what improvement looks like.
Canceling the SBI-Net presents the United States with an illegal immigration conundrum. The pilot “virtual fence” and its successor when finished are designed to deter/stop entry into the United States from Mexico in the future. The U.S. immigration debate concerns more than 11 million undocumented immigrants that are already here. Their status and living conditions are important human rights issues. Undocumented immigrants should not be left in limbo while ill-defined border security is moved center stage. In reality, the US government needs to increase border security as well as address immigration reform. One is not a function of the other. These two topics of national security interest should be addressed in tandem.