Border Patrol Gets X-Ray Machine To Find Smugglers

Posted: Sep 14, 2009 07:40 PM CDT

By Rodney Wardle, News Channel 3 Reporter

NEAR SALTON SEA - The Mobile Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System, or Mobile VACIS, is an x-ray machine that scans vehicles for guns, drugs and illegal immigrants. The National Guard runs the equipment at the Border Patrol checkpoint. It takes about two minutes to scan a vehicle.

The machine sits on a truck bed and drives slowly past a parked vehicle while sensors scan. Gamma radiation comes from a box that hangs from an arch-shaped arm that extends to the truck. Information is feed through this archway into the truck where agents inside can get a real-time look at what's inside vehicles. The Border Patrol says the radiation won't hurt drivers. The system can scan 125 feet, or the length of semi-truck or four regular vehicles.

The machine is primarily used at the Border Patrol checkpoint off Highway 86. The road is a main entry into the U.S. from Mexico. And the checkpoint sees a lot of action.

"On the first day it was in operation, they discovered a hidden person in the cabin of a semi-tractor trailer," says Emily Suarez with U.S. Border Patrol.

More recently, the agency used the system to seize 30 pounds of marijuana hidden in a vehicle's spare tire. Bernice Sandoval and her friend pass the checkpoint regularly on their way to Fontana. They're ok with the short stop.

"If I'm not doing anything wrong. It shouldn't bother anybody," says Sandoval.

The system is mobile and can move between Border Patrol checkpoints. Agents with the El Centro sector's checkpoint off Highway 86 started using it more than a month ago. While the system has proved effective it won't replace the old method of questioning drivers and using dogs to sniff for contraband.

"We don't change out tactics or operating procedures it's just another tool we have here at the checkpoint," says Suarez. ... 8&nav=9qrx