New surveillance equipment and weapons being deployed along the U.S. border with Mexico are prompting some Mexicans to complain that U.S. law enforcement is becoming too military.
This week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection took possession of a sixth high-tech surveillance drone to patrol the border for drug smugglers and illegal immigrants.
The drone is no different than the ones used by the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition, local police who work along the border have been arming themselves with grenade launchers, powerful machine guns and armored vehicles, according to the Mexican news media.
The Predator-B drone is one of four unmanned surveillance aircraft based at the National Air Security Operations Center in Sierra Vista, AZ. Two others fly out of a base at Corpus Christi, TX.
"The missions from these two centers will allow [Customs and Border Protection] to deploy its unmanned aircraft from the eastern tip of California across the common Mexican land borders of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas," the agency said in a statement.
By 2016, Customs and Border Protection officials hope to operate 24 of the Predators.
The drones, which are equipped with day and night vision cameras, already are credited with leading to about 7,500 arrests at the border and seizure of 46,600 pounds of illegal drugs since the program started in 2005.
The drones can fly as high as 50,000 feet and identify vehicles and people on the ground while being operated by controllers more than 1,000 miles away.
However, their sometimes limited ability to determine what is happening on the ground compared with Border Patrol agents makes some Americans wonder whether they are worth the expense to taxpayers.
A Government Accountability Office report in September estimated the cost at $7,054 for each illegal immigrant or drug smuggler the Predators help to arrest, based on flight costs of $3,234 per hour.
Even if the figure of 7,500 arrests is accurate, they are only a small part of the 327,577 illegal immigrants arrested along the Mexican border in fiscal 2011 alone.
So far, the U.S. government has spent $240 million to buy and maintain drones operated by Customs and Border Protection.
Nevertheless, the drones have strong support from border state lawmakers.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry says Predators are a better solution to border security than a fence. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has said the drones are "ideal for border security and counter-drug missions."
Law enforcement agencies in the border states have been asking the Defense Department to donate other military equipment to protect themselves against violence spilling over from Mexico's war against drug cartels.
The Defense Department is giving them armored vehicles, grenade launchers and M-16 machine guns, according to the Mexican newspaper El Universal.
The Tyler, TX, police are now using a 7-ton armored personnel carrier called the G3-BearCat. It is designed to withstand bursts of AK-47 bullets, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
El Universal quoted Steven McCraw, director of Texas Public Safety, as saying, "The Mexican cartels are using military tactics, even in America."
The cartels' tactics include use of automatic weapons, secure communications and trend analysts, McCraw reportedly said.
The Defense Department also is providing training for law enforcement agencies.
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