Daily Briefing
March 31, 2005

Arizona border program gets more agents but no drones
By Greta Wodele, CongressDaily

The Homeland Security Department is rolling out the second phase of its Arizona border control program, despite not having a key technology for detecting illegal immigrants entering the country.

Arizona senators and House members sent a letter earlier this month to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff asking him to reinstate unmanned aerial vehicles for the project.

The lawmakers called the unmanned drones critical to fighting the war on terror and securing the Arizona border by spotting undocumented workers entering the country across the desert. They also requested a comprehensive update on the program by Thursday but it was not clear if they had received the report.

The UAV program was grounded in January when the Homeland Security Department's contract with the Defense Department to borrow two of their drones expired.

Homeland Security officials announced Tuesday they were expanding the Arizona Border Control initiative by increasing the number of patrol agents by 25 percent and temporarily assigning helicopters and other aircraft to patrol the area. A Homeland Security Department spokeswoman in Tucson said Thursday the department is not planning to deploy UAVs because they are "still in the evaluation phase" to review their performance from last year.

Former Deputy Homeland Security Secretary James Loy told the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee in February that UAVs proved "invaluable" and it was "shortsighted" of the department to allow the contract to expire without starting the bidding process to purchase them. Loy also said the UAV initiative was only a test project, not a "full-fledged program," but added he was calling the Defense Department to "plug back in as quickly as we can" the drones. At the hearing, Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., argued the department should have taken action to prevent a "gap" heading into the summer season when hundreds of people die in the desert heat trying to enter the country. Last year, Kolbe said, 190 people died.