Source: CNN (bleh!)
It’s a frigid, dark night in the mountainous border region of southeast Arizona. A group of 31 suspected illegal immigrants are walking up and down rocky ridges toward Tucson, Arizona. They’re wearing small backpacks and stop to rest every few minutes.
This isn’t a scene unfolding before the eyes of Border Patrol agents on the ground. It comes from a video image provided by a Predator B unmanned aircraft 19,000 feet overhead. In fact, the nearest Border Patrol agents are far away.
Jerry Kersey is the Customs and Border Protection agent in charge of this night’s Predator mission. He and his two-man crew relay the information to Border Patrol agents from a small trailer 40 miles from the scene.
Kersey directs the agents on the ground, who are wearing night-vision goggles.
“Stop! Stop! They’re to your right,” Kersey firmly dictates over a radio transmission. “They must see you. The group is running.”
Over radio headsets, you can hear the agents running through the rugged terrain.
“It makes them much more effective when we’re able to say, ‘Hey, this is a group. You need to come get these guys,’ ” Kersey told CNN during a recent night mission.
It’s also the reason a growing chorus of lawmakers and politicians are calling on the office of Customs and Border Protection to dispatch more Predator aircraft to patrol the border regions.
Supporters of the idea say the Predator’s multimillion-dollar price tag — the camera alone can cost more than $2 million — is worth it. The drone patrols remote areas of the border where ground agents don’t have consistent access.
“They can be very useful in providing eyes in the sky to make sure that we keep America safe,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat representing the Texas border town of Laredo. “This will be something that provides law enforcement extra support.”
Cuellar says he wants to see Predator aircraft help track down illegal immigrants and drug smugglers and provide intelligence on Mexican drug cartels operating along the border.
Right now, Predator aircraft monitor some border regions on a limited basis. Customs and Border Protection says it has six of the unmanned aircraft: There are three Predators in Arizona, two in North Dakota, and one is being tested for maritime anti-narcotics duty in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The agency will get its seventh drone this spring. That one is expected to go to Corpus Christi, Texas. Right now, none of its drones fly over Texas, the agency said.
The pilotless Predator B can fly up to 240 knots (276 mph) at altitudes up to 50,000 feet, according to the Customs and Border Protection Web site.
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