Attacks against US Border Patrol agents have doubled since last year. To combat the rising assaults, the agency is looking at ways high tech and traditional tools can make a difference.
CBN News traveled to the US/Mexico border and spent several days with agents in the US Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley sector.
The sector is equipped with a complex network of both cameras and sensors.
Video Surveillance Systems
Illegal border crossings fell to their lowest level in at least five years in 2017, but the numbers have risen each of the past eight months, according to US Customs and Border Protection.
Agents say more arrests are being made thanks to the addition of remote video surveillance towers.
"These towers provide incredible situational awareness for the agents," aid Border Patrol agent Robert Rodriguez. "They have a really big viewshed so they scan a large area to let agents know what is going on in that area. We can see any suspicious vehicles that they may encounter in the area."
Years ago, an agent would sit below these moveable towers to control the day and night vision cameras high above.
Today, just a few agents command an entire fleet of cameras from a remote location miles away.
"The operator of the camera will let him know this subject might be armed," Rodriguez explained. "The subjects are carrying narcotics, so you enter those situations a little more cautiously."
"You never know what you're going to come up against," he added. "It might be the most unsuspecting individual and you go back to the station and roll their fingerprints, and the record return might come back as a murder."
Aerostats, Underground Sensors, and Horse Power
While the US/Mexico border stretches almost 2,000 miles, less than 20 percent has a fence. President Donald Trump wants to build 800 miles of new fencing along the southwest border.
But even the president admits that won't help in some remote areas where technology is a better fit.
For example, the agency uses aerostats, small blimp-like devices, with day and night vision cameras to cut the illegal drug flow.
"The Rio Grande city station is known as the busiest in the nation right now," said Border Patrol agent Marcelino Medina. "It's known for narcotic seizures. A lot of drugs flow through the area."
Technology Isn't Always the Best Tool
Trying to check out each triggered sensor over bad roads can take hours, and by the time agents arrive, the illegal immigrants are often long gone.
That's why the Border Patrol is also equipped with a herd of horses. Agents say the horses work well when trying to get through the dense brush.
"You guys can see it's not the easiest thing to walk through, especially when you come out at night," Rodriguez told CBN News.
Testing Drones and Smartphone Apps
Hoping to help its agents in the field, the Border Patrol is also testing the use of personal drones, giving agents in remote areas eyes where they are currently operationally blind.
Agents say the drones can be deployed to assist personnel on the ground, moving to a target or moving in on a group it detects. The program is still in a testing phase.
CBN News was given access to a video of a Tucson-based special operations team in the western Arizona desert, an 80-mile stretch of cactus, mesquite bushes and Palo Verde trees – with no fence at all.
A drone closes the gap, confirming the sensor hit as a person or animal, how many illegal immigrants are in a group, and if any are armed.
The drone program is still in its testing phase in Arizona, Vermont, and Texas. Three drones are being tested – two fixed wings and one quadcopter. Whatever platform is chosen will likely be equipped with a day/night camera and possibly radar.
Digital technology in the form of a smartphone app also helps the department shrink the playing field. Every phone carries an electronic signature, identifying each agent by color and icon.
The Border Patrol's top brass say they have made great strides, but more needs to be done.
"I can tell you, yes we have throughout the southwest border, we have detained people with national interest and of course we run them through the gamete," Chief Manuel Padilla, Jr., who is in charge of the Rio Grande Valley Sector told CBN News. "So what we need to do and keep doing is push our borders outward from a technology base way before they get to our immediate borders."