After three years of jockeying over how to spend the hundreds of thousands of dollars raised to construct a fence along Arizona’s border with Mexico, a state lawmaker is proposing to use those funds — and another $30 million — on a virtual fence to patrol the border.
Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, introduced legislation proposing a radar network along the border to monitor traffic moving from Mexico to Arizona, independent of federal border patrol efforts.
“My proposal is just to monitor,” Worsley said. “Trust but verify.”
The fence would serve as a check on the federal government, said Worsley, who said he is confident Congress will pass comprehensive immigration reform and wants to ensure Arizona can keep tabs on federal promises to secure the border.
“We’re going to see reform, and that matters a lot to us as a frontier state. So to me, it’s important to know, can we trust the federal government when they say they’ve done their job on the border?” the senator said.
Using a compact radar system, SpotterRF, Worsley envisions 200 cameras with eyes on the border. The devices weigh as little as 3 pounds, and can track targets at up to 1,250 meters, detecting people and vehicles.
Purchasing 200 radar devices — enough to cover the entire Arizona-Mexico border, Worsley said — would cost roughly $30 million, the senator estimates, a sum he’s asking be appropriated from the general fund.
Funding for the project was not included in Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposed budget, but Worsley said the governor’s staff was “receptive” to the idea.
“For less than the cost of a high school, we could have eyes 10, 15 miles off the border,” Worsley said. “We could then have our own artificial, virtual fence and we would be able to see in real time what’s happening on every inch of the border.”
Worley also thinks a virtual fence would be a perfect way to spend the unused funds collected by the Joint Border Security Advisory Committee, which has yet to give a green light on any proposals Roughly $260,000 has sat unused, as the committee has been unable to agree on a proper way to spend the funds.
Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, has been flustered by the committee’s lack of agreement. Smith authored the bill creating the committee for the border fence.
There’s merit to Worsley’s idea, but if he wants any of the committee’s funding, Smith said obtaining approval is easier said than done.
“That money is in a secure trust fund account with the Treasurer’s Office and that money can only be appropriated through a border patrol committee,” Smith said. “If he did want to spend that money he’d have the same mountain to climb that I have and try to get it passed through the committee and not just take it and appropriate it. If that was the case I would have done it a long time ago.”
The original purpose of the funds — to build a physical fence along the border — now seems a distant dream, as the funds are insufficient to build even a mile of concrete fencing.
Worsley’s bill amends the legislation Smith wrote to create the Border Security Advisory Committee and fund to allow the money to be spent on a virtual fence, rather than a physical structure, which the senator said would be a “waste of money.”
“This is the future. This is what the Marines are doing, this is what the Army’s doing out on patrol. This is being deployed in DMZ areas all around the world,” Worsley said.
Even after amending the law’s language, Worsley would still need the consent of Smith’s committee to spend the funds on his virtual fence.
Regardless of whether his border security committee funds are used to help Worsley’s effort, Smith said there’s merit to the idea. But he’d prefer the radar devices be used in coordination with law enforcement along the border.
“We know that the border is porous. We know that the federal agency is not doing their job,” Smith said. “It’s a very good step, but again, what type of law enforcement agency is attached to it to validate those numbers going in, and what is the end goal with those numbers?”