News 88.9 KNPR
Classical 89.7 KCNV

member station


Border Security In A Growing State Of Surveillance

MICHELE MARIZCO -- Any immigration reform bill is likely to include plans to boost security along the Southwest Border. Proposals on the table include more drones, more cameras, more boots on the ground.

Jim McManus’s farm sits about 25 miles north of Mexico in the small town of Arivaca, Arizona. Pigs and chickens and peacocks run around in their pens. The air is pungent with the musky smell of his goats. McManus grew up in Southern Arizona and he’s seen the changes to border law enforcement. Mostly he’s noticed that IT doesn’t sit on the actual border. It’s all around him. He points at a hill north of his property.

“I spend the morning building up fences, putting things back, gathering up my cows, putting the horses where they need to be,” says McManus. “All the while, I’ve got border patrol and the sheriff parked on the hill watching me with glasses, treating me like I am the bad guy.”

Mexico’s half an hour away but this region is already under a level of federal surveillance seen nowhere else in the country. Driving his kids to school to a nearby town means McManus passes through two federal checkpoints where he’s briefly questioned and 11 highway cameras monitored by federal drug agents. Add to that, the drones, surveillance planes and helicopters that regularly patrol the skies above southern Arizona and it creates a lot of watchful eyes.

Support comes from

“If you conduct business here, you live here, you’re always being watched, you’re always being stopped, and you’re treated as if you’re a criminal,” he says.

In the Senate's border security proposal, a compromise was reached -- the Senate agreed to limit border drones to three miles of California’s border. Not so for Southern Arizona or South Texas, or New Mexico. In these states, those drones will fly 100 miles inland.

“There’s just not enough of us in the rest of this border region to be significant in the decision making on this,” says McManus.

It’s all part of a plan aimed at achieving 24/7 border surveillance

I drive through a border patrol checkpoint and down to the village of Tubac where Terry Kirkpatrick lives. He’s a former Immigration and Customs Enforcement official and is skeptical that flooding this area with more agents will deter organized crime. He lays out all the border law enforcement that are already here. “Oh, it’s astronomical,” he says.

He lists 2,000 federal agents. Then two county sheriff departments, and more local police from inside Arizona. Then, military, and sometimes, National Guard. His real concern: drug trafficking.

“Something’s not working,” says Kirkpatrick. “There’s something broken that we have that much manpower, that much surveillance and we’re not able to stem anything.”

Most civil rights organizations concede that the federal government has the right to surveillance within a certain distance of the border.  But the quest for a secure border gets close to crossing the line. And sometimes, privacy advocates say, it oversteps. Jennifer Lynch is with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The group found Homeland Security isn’t just monitoring the highways and ports of entry but are also recording people’s movements in the larger border region, whether or not they cross into Mexico.

“And then they’re sharing that data with state and local law enforcement as well. We’ve seen this down in San Diego where the border Patrol agents down there are collecting license plate data and sharing it with a regional database,” says Lynch.

Supporters of the Senate’s so-called border surge amendment to beef up security believe it’s a necessary compromise to pass immigration reform. Here’s Senator John McCain on CNN:
“We’ll be the most militarized zone since the Berlin wall.”

And all that, right in Jim McManus’s front yard.


You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for.  If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.

More Stories

KNPR's State of Nevada
KNPR's State of Nevada