A plan to install 350 miles of “virtual fencing” along the Arizona-Mexico border was approved by an Arizona House panel on Monday. The endeavor would receive $30 million in funding but could also include an additional $260,000 in donations collected by the state.
Sen. Bob Worsley (R-Mesa) proposed the plan, which would mount cereal box-sized sensors on 300 towers along the border. The sensors use infrared cameras to send real-time images of human activity to a publicly-accessible website. These images would be monitored by law enforcement.
Worsley said, “It’s time that we have our own way to verify what we’re being told by the Department of Homeland Security.”
The bill passed on a 4-3 party-line vote. Some Republicans expressed concerns regarding privacy and funding. Sen. Kelli Ward (R-Lake Havasu City) said, “It seems like anybody and everybody can see anybody and everybody down there.”
Sen. Chester Crandell (R-Heber) offered concern that the $30 million wouldn’t necessarily make the border any safer — rather, he argued, the sensors would simply allow Arizona residents to sit at their computers and watch. He said, “It’s one thing to spend this kind of money … to protect our citizens. But it seems that most of what you’re putting here is just to observe to determine whether the federal government actually is telling the truth or not… I’m not sure it’s a good, wise use of money just to tell the federal government, ‘Ha, ha, we can see what you’re doing and we don’t agree with what you’re doing.'”
Some critics question how effective the monitoring system is. In 2006 the federal government spent $1 billion to build a virtual fence, which spanned 53 miles of the Arizona border — each mile cost over $18.5 million to cover. Sylvia Longmire, Breitbart Texas border security expert and author of “Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer,” said that the project was abandoned in 2011 because it “was plagued with delays, cost overruns, difficulty in dealing with prime contractor Boeing, and general financial mismanagement.”
She said, “How Arizona plans to cover 350 miles with only $30 million and no obvious source of contracting expertise or anticipated corporate bidders, I have no idea. I’m concerned this is another example of political ‘plans on paper’ to make citizens believe the state is taking care of what the federal government cannot and will only end up… wasting [citizens’] tax dollars.”
Still, virtual fences are a more cost-efficient option than traditional fencing. Effective metal fences costs anywhere from $1 million to $16 million per mile to build — Arizona’s $30 million budget would only cover a few miles of the border if traditional fences were utilized.
The $30 million plan will next be reviewed by the Senate Appropriations Committee. It is expected to receive sharp criticism.