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The Arizona Republic September 22, 2005

Renzi wants patrol to peer into Mexico

By Billy House

WASHINGTON - Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz., says state-of-the-art military technology should be employed to help the U.S. Border Patrol peer into Mexico to locate and track the movements of immigrants, smugglers and potential terrorists before they cross the border.

Aerostat balloons, equipped with night-vision capabilities and other intelligence equipment, already are in use by the Defense Department in various other regions, Renzi said in an interview Wednesday.

Such technology should similarly aid federal authorities at the border to actually look into Mexico, Renzi said.

But Rafael Laveaga, a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy here, warned Wednesday that such an idea "could be in conflict with Mexican law." He said Mexico's Constitution does not permit police activity by agencies of other nations, unless done with the cooperation of the Mexican government.

Laveaga said he does not know enough about Renzi's idea to comment on whether Mexico might go along with it.

Renzi, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said he will outline the specifics of his proposal in a paper he is writing for House leaders. The former Northern Arizona University linebacker calls his plan a "red zone defense" for America's borders. He was referring to a situation in football where the defense has to change its strategy because the other team is within the 20-yard line and is in position to score a touchdown or at least a field goal.

The idea of using military intelligence technology, Renzi said, "is not to spy into Mexico to steal some sort of industrial secrets or something."

But he conceded it likely would require discussions between the State Department and Mexico for it to proceed.

Renzi also acknowledged that there already are several other immigration reform proposals before Congress, including those seeking to address the flow of undocumented immigrants seeking work in the United States.

But Renzi said he believes the United States first must secure its borders before embracing a comprehensive immigration policy to address guest workers.

Along with the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, drones, ground sensors and tower sensors, Renzi said the aerostat balloons would enable border agents to spot would-be illegal immigrants early on, miles before they attempt to enter the country, and even distinguish who may be coming for work and who might be drug smugglers, other potential criminals or even terrorists.

Such information would allow federal authorities to shift limited manpower to where it is needed most to stop those coming over before they cross the borders. The use of such technology also could save the lives of immigrants who risk death by trying to cross the desert into the United States.

Renzi estimates the cost of putting this technology in place along the entire 1,951-mile U. S.-Mexico border at about $500 million. Arizona's 389-mile share of the border with Mexico includes remote, treacherous expanses of desert and well-established smuggling corridors.

John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a think tank based in Alexandria, Va., said Renzi's plan to use military technology to peer across the border for potential undocumented immigrants and smugglers does not, in his view, raise any privacy concerns.

After all, he said, those individuals, if spotted, are clearly "out in the open."

But Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, said a build-up of law enforcement and equipment along the border has not worked so far in stemming the tide of illegal immigration. He said ideas to improve or tighten border security, such as Renzi's, must still be combined with the creation of more legal channels for people to come to this country and work.


Copyright 2005, The Arizona Republic