In Two Weeks, 295 Apprehensions in the Ajo SBInet Sector

By Janice Kephart on March 11, 2011

In the past two weeks, the Ajo Border Patrol sector has publicized its apprehension of three large groups of illegals totaling 295 individuals using video operators and surveillance systems. These catches represent abnormally high numbers of illegals in single groupings crossing the desert before the heat of spring rolls in. Two prior blogs (here and here) report those apprehensions, with the first showing a map of the exact location of Ajo's SBInet (Secure Border Initiative) towers, likely responsible for this snag as well. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano canceled the program last month. Note in this newspaper report the Border Patrol's emphasis (once again) on the importance of the technology to this success:

Border agents apprehend group of 91 illegal immigrants near Ajo

Border Patrol agents apprehended an unusually large group of illegal immigrants Tuesday night 15 miles south of Ajo, authorities said.

Agents using a radar-based surveillance system found 90 men and a woman in the Arizona desert, said Agent Colleen Agle, a spokeswoman for Border Patrol Tucson sector.

"We don't typically see groups this size," Agle said. "Our technology is so advanced it's hard to go undetected, especially a group that big."

The group was found walking north about 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, Agle said. All 91 illegal immigrants were from Mexico, according to Border Patrol.

The group was found with the help of members of Operation Trident, which uses resources from the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife on joint patrols, the agency said.

What is unusual about this report is not only that it once again references the importance of technology, but adds in an acknowledgment of a working relationship between the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with the Border Patrol, which often do not work together or when they do, it is not publicized. Such a reference may indicate a growing cooperative relationship that is spurred by the full deployment of SBInet in Ajo about a year ago. Designed to be environmentally sensitive and help prevent Border Patrol from making unnecessary treks in national parks and wildlife refuges, SBInet has garnered the support of the most senior environmental law enforcement officials in the southwest. Why? SBInet helps assure that when the Border Patrol does pursue an apprehension, they do so (1) with the blessing of the Department of Interior from the outset; (2) have the operational intelligence to know a pursuit will yield results; and (3) can plan the apprehension in a way that takes environmental concerns into account. The issues of Border Patrol access to federal lands and difficulties with the Department of Interior I have highlighted in my mini-documentary "Hidden Cameras on the Arizona Border 2: Drugs, Guns and 850 Illegal Aliens". I also wrote on a congressional attempt to designate New Mexico federal land as wildlife land in the 111th Congress, which would have diminished Border Patrol access; the Memorandum is entitled "A Gift to the Drug Cartels: Will New Mexico Become the New Arizona?".

The first two apprehensions I blogged about on February 25 and March 8 were confirmed to be the work of the now-canceled SBInet (Secure Border Initiative), and this most recent one, 15 miles south of Ajo, was directly between SBInet's two sensor and three communications towers still operating in Ajo. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has claimed that SBInet needed to be canceled because it failed to be a "one-stop solution" for the border. However, SBInet was not launched to be a one-stop solution for the border. Former DHS Secretary Chertoff discussed the progress of SBInet in March 2008 with regard to the camera-radar-communications towers currently operational in Ajo and Tuscon sectors:


SBInet was a concept of taking – marrying together cameras and radar, and having an automated way to have the camera track where there's a radar hit so that a single agent could cover 28 or 30 miles with a single common-operating picture, as opposed to having individual agents sitting in individual ground-based radar cars.

Clearly, SBInet was considered a tool in the toolbox, not a one-stop solution. Just as clearly, SBInet is doing just what it originally promised: providing a common operating picture over miles of desert routes that offers much-increased efficiency, and safety, for Border Patrol agents in the field. Exaggerating the extent of SBInet's mission was a convenient hyperbole to help negate its value to border security and kill the program. If the program had not been frozen last year and then canceled, most of the Arizona border where SBInet technology is appropriate would have it up and operational under the three planned deployments in Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation and east and west of Nogales. It is certainly possible that press releases like the ones from Ajo in the past two weeks could be filling the news cycles with stories of apprehensions, rather than increasing cartel violence.