Debate on Drones at the U.S.-Mexico border

Each costs between 18 million and 20 million

WASHINGTON. - Drones have typically flown the skies for attacks against terrorist targets abroad, but within a new plan for immigration reform that is causing some controversy, these aircrafts are being proposed to have a greater role in border security between the U.S. and Mexico.

The plan presented last week by a bipartisan group of the Senate is proposing the use of more drones to patrol the border with Mexico, to deter the trafficking of illegal drugs, people, weapons or money.

The proposal (that is not yet a bill) does not specify how many of these high-tech aircrafts will be added to the fleet of ten "Predators" that the Department of Homeland Security currently has.

The idea of increasing the number of drones, which the U.S. has only used previously against Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Yemen, is now facing many critics who believe that the "drones" are ineffective, costly and threaten civil rights.

"I do not understand the benefits of these 'drones' in relation to spending. They are expensive and raise serious questions about the privacy of individuals, because they are also able to monitor activities that are not related to immigration," said Jay Stanley to Efe, who is an analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

"I do not know if these 'drones' have had any significant achievements, and we are concerned about the emphasis on technological solutions to social problems as complex as immigration. Some people are pushing for increased use of these planes, but we must consider measures to protect privacy against that technology," Stanley added.

Criticism also came from conservatives like David North from the Center for Immigration Studies, who has criticized in his blog the poor planning and funding of "drones" by the Department of Homeland Security.

"I think the DHS has fallen into the same trap as the Pentagon but on a smaller scale, and is obsessed with toys for adult's, in this case 'drones'" said North.

A report by the Inspector General of the DHS, said that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection "drones" program that was launched back in 2004, faces deficits and does not have the proper budget for the maintenance and repair of these planes.

CBP "faces the risk of having invested substantially in a program that limits the resources and capacity to achieve the goals of the mission," said the 22-page report last May, noting that DHS only operates these drones between one third and a quarter of their capacity.

Each "Predator" (drone) costs between 18 million and 20 million, not including the cost of the operation and maintenance of the aircraft, which is manufactured by General Atomics, a company that is based in San Diego, CA, who last year won a contract of 443 million dollars with DHS.

CBP has stated that those planes in 2011 contributed to the arrest of 7,500 illegal immigrants and the seizure of nearly 21,000 kilos of marijuana. But critics say the figures are less than one percent of total arrests and seizures in the past six years.


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