A Problem With No Easy Solution

A border patrol truck at the US/Mexico border.

The United States southern border has been a topic of controversy for many years, with debates raging about immigration policies and national security. Stemming large and often uncontrollable waves of immigrants has been a fiercely contested issue that has never resulted in a comprehensive resolution. In recent years, however, there has been a significant increase in digital surveillance technologies being deployed to monitor and potentially deter migrants from entering the country illegally. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organization focusing on digital privacy and free speech concerns, has recently documented the locations of 300 existing surveillance towers and 50 planned installations along the US and Mexico border. This strengthening of a “virtual wall” along the border is intended to dissuade migrants from crossing in high traffic areas where the towers are clearly visible. But what else are these cameras for, and what has their effect been so far?

Automated Defenses

An Anduril sentry tower at the Southern border.

While in the past, surveillance units had to be monitored by human border agents to be effective, we now have artificial intelligence to scan footage and track valuable data. Tech companies like Anduril and Google have received major commissions from the US government to automate these surveillance systems, which have been in use since the year 2000. The watchtowers operate 24/7, have a 360 field of view, and utilize human/vehicle recognition software to detect targets that can be seen from almost 2 miles away. When a valid target is detected, it sends an alert to border patrol agents who can investigate further. License plate readers, facial recognition cameras, and even iris and fingerprint scanners are also used by border patrol to track and monitor the movement of individuals and groups across the border.

Effects of Increased Surveillance

Migrants crossing Southern border.

It can be easy to see the potential benefits of increasing the amount and integrity of surveillance networks across the southern border. On the one hand, it is a non-violent and humane way to secure border activity, at least, according to the government. Not only do the towers monitor the flux of illegal immigrants, but they are also useful in preventing other illicit crimes like drug and sex trafficking.

However, opponents of the digital deterrence claim that the investment has driven migrants further into the desert to avoid detection, thus making an already dangerous trip even more deadly. Critics also claim that the biometric and tracking data collected by the border patrol isn’t worth the sacrifice of immigrant’s privacy rights, as the border patrol has not released any evidence that the data collected by the surveillance towers are particularly effective. In an effort to bolster tactics that avoid direct confrontation, these critics propose that the surveillance towers cruelly cost immigrants their lives as they take longer and more arduous roads to reach the US border.


There is effectively no great solution to the current border crisis in sight. It seems that any solution put into practice is met with backlash, criticism, or is foiled by the clever ingenuity of Mexican border smugglers. After all, it seems that increased security at the border only creates a greater market for criminals and smugglers to “help” ferry immigrants through the dangerous territory. However, some might say that there is a great need for some kind of surveillance in the area as this gives border patrol a better idea of the traveling activities of the many groups of migrants who travel to the border. At the end of the day, there must be some kind of security solution in place to ensure a safe, controlled, and humane way to enter the country. What form that may take however, is still to be solved.

About the Author: Aaron Avila

Aaron J. Avila is a digital designer, social media marketer, and security professional with ENS Security.

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