The plans for a virtual fence along the southern U.S. border have been revived by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in recent weeks, after cancellation of the previous attempt in 2011 by then Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.
The news comes as Republican presidential candidates have been putting forth their own proposals for dealing with illegal immigration.
The previous virtual fence known as the Secure Border Initiative Network (SBIN) will be replaced by a new series of sensor towers that are first being tested in Nogales, Arizona.
Homeland Security has designated $145 million for purchasing of up to six sets of towers in the state in order to detect illegal crossings.
The SBIN project’s failure was partially due to its poor implementation. Little collaboration between Boeing, who won the contract, and the border personnel who would be using the system led to many issues of poor performance. It also had difficulty coping with the harsh desert environment, and would sometimes alert border personnel to moving foliage and raindrops.
The current contract is with Elbit Systems of America, which has previously developed sensor technology for Israel’s wall with the West Bank. The company has also reportedly developed tunnel-detection systems for Israel.
The first series of towers in Arizona cost $23 million and have been built and tested, with supplemental equipment consisting of truck-mounted cameras and ground sensors. According to the contract awarded to Elbit, the system will be able to detect persons travelling by foot, vehicle, or animal.
Donald Trump has received criticism for his proposals on illegal immigration, but his idea for a physical wall may become irrelevant if the system by Elbit proves successful. The U.S. Border Patrol statistics on illegal alien apprehensions have been on a downward trend dating back to 2005, stabilizing in recent years between 200,000 and 300,000 per year. That number would likely jump if the SBIN is the success many in the area hope it to be.