The Future of the Border: More Drones, Maybe with ‘Non-Lethal’ Weapons, and More Border Patrol Agents

Lucy Steigerwald, July 05, 2013

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According to documents acquired by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in 2010 the Department of Homeland Security considered the possibility of arming their border drones with “expendables or non-lethal weapons.”

There are currently ten Border Patrol drones, the majority on the Mexican border. They are used only for surveillance-related actions, though a lot more often than previously admitted or expected before the release of flight logs and other documents to EFF. Some of the information gleaned by EFF about drone usage includes the fact that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have sent drones far into the Southwest and Northern corners of the U.S.. Also,  they’re also lending out their drones to the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals, and various state agencies. In 2012, CBP flew drones for other agencies 250 times, a rapid increase from the last few years. (The question of FBI-specific drone usage has been raised recently as well, by Sen. Rand Paul and others.)

According to, EFF, CBP already use drones for

“specific drug-related investigations, searches for missing persons, border crossings and fishing violations to general “surveillance imagery” and “aerial reconnaissance” of a given location.”

They have also been used for environmental and geographic surveillance. Check out EFF’s report for some details, but mostly a lot of unanswered questions about privacy and accountability or lack thereof.

Customs and Border Patrol and DHS assure us that they have no current plan to arm drones. But how long will that last? We may be a long way away from a dystopia where Hellfire missiles rain down on American citizens (okay, Hellfire missiles that rain down on American citizens while they’re within the border of the United States) but a world where drones carry Tazers, sound cannons, rubber bullets, or mostly-not-deadly law enforcement favorites may be a lot closer. And throwing money at the border “problem” will no doubt make all of this worse.

Last week the Senate passed a long-awaited immigration bill that includes some good stuff for immigrant amnesty. It also unfortunately allows for nearly $47 million billion to be spent on border “security”, adds 300-odd miles of border fence, and, notes Arizona Central:

calls for the [Customs and Border Patrol] and its subagency, the Border Patrol, to operate drones 24 hours a day, seven days a week along the southern border. If some version of that bill passes the House, as many as 24 additional drones could be deployed.

Nathan Goodman writing at Counterpunch points out that it’s already bad on the border, and:

this money will be used to create what John McCain calls “the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall,” staffed by at least 38,405 Border Patrol agents. That’s a larger force than George W. Bush had stationed in Afghanistan when he left office. No wonder it’s been called the “border surge.”

Those agents will be armed with billions of dollars worth of equipment from America’s leading war profiteers. According to the Washington Post, the bill demands “among other items, six Northrop Grumman airborne radar systems that cost $9.3 million each, 15 Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopters that average more than $17 million apiece, and eight light enforcement helicopters made by American Eurocopter that sell for about $3 million each.” As usual, militarization means obscene corporate profits at taxpayer expense.

Moreover, increasing “border security” funding means expanding an agency whose members routinely violate civil liberties and have even committed murder. John Carlos Frey has documented 10 instances where Border Patrol agents have shot innocent Mexicans on Mexican soil. In one case, 16-year old José Antonio Rodríguez was shot eight times when he went to buy a hot dog in the border town of Nogales.  In another incident, Frey explains, “a husband and wife were celebrating the birthday of their two daughters. The husband got shot and killed, shot in the heart.” This is what Border Patrol agents do to peaceful people who haven’t even crossed the border.

The level of militarization within federal, state, and local law enforcement in America is staggering. Adding 20,000 more people whose job it is to stop nearly entirely peaceful immigrants from finding work is not a just, or free, or merciful solution to the supposed problem of their movement into the U.S.. Adding more drones, with or without non-lethal weapons, will make things worse. At the very least because of how much each step like this normalizes the warped state of policing in America.

The bill will most likely wither in the House because Republicans think it’s too soft on immigrants, and “amnesty” is unpopular in many districts. But honestly, if the plight of poor migrants doesn’t concern you, consider Ron Paul’s frequent warnings about what a border can mean to the people within that nation. East Germany and North Korea are the most obvious examples of a man-made border that kept their people from leaving. The people of America have a lot more exit options in this big old country, but the point and the principle still stands. You don’t want the people with all the power and the military tech serving as doormen in either direction.




14 Responses to “The Future of the Border: More Drones, Maybe with ‘Non-Lethal’ Weapons, and More Border Patrol Agents”

  1. In your fifth paragraph, it's $47 billion rather than "million" to be spent on border security.

  2. [...] Antiwar.com (blog) [...]

  3. Augh, I knew that, but my fingers didn't. Thanks and fixed.

  4. [...] to arm dronesazcentral.comUS Border Agency Lets Other Units Use Its DronesNew York Times (blog)The Future of the Border: More Drones, Maybe with ‘Non-Lethal’ Weapons, and …Antiwar.com (blog)Slate Magazine -WebProNews -Examiner.comall 32 news [...]

  5. The people of America have a lot more exit options in this big old country, but the point and the principle still stands. You don’t want the people with all the power and the military tech serving as doormen in either direction.

  6. They have also been used for environmental and geographic surveillance. Check out EFF’s report for some details, but mostly a lot of unanswered questions about privacy and accountability or lack thereof.

  7. The US 99% haven't worked out that the fence is to keep them in.

  8. The people of America have a lot more exit options in this big old country, but the point and the principle still stands. You don’t want the people with all the power and the military tech serving as doormen in either direction.

  9. [...] The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been at the forefront of attempting to obtain documents under the Freedom of Information Act and through lawsuits that will show the full scope of what the military-industrial complex has in store for America. What they have found so far is quite disturbing. So far, documents obtained by EFF have shown a massive ramp-up of drone surveillance across an array of agencies and “entities,” which includes facial recognition and data collection. along with consideration of the possibility of arming their border drones with “expendables or non-lethal weapons.” [...]

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