Virtual fence glitches show anti-immigration measure is pre-alpha

Can Congress secure U.S. borders with a high-tech virtual fence?

Can Congress secure U.S. borders with a high-tech virtual fence? If the fate of the hotly debated anti-immigration reform bill rested solely on the success of Arizona's high-tech virtual fence, supporters would be sorely disappointed. The high-tech experiment on a 28-mile stretch of Arizona's border with Mexico is having technical difficulties, reports the Arizona Republic. The virtual fence, a network of remote cameras and sensors around Sasabe, AZ, northwest of Nogales, is the Department of Homeland Security's prototype for a 6,000-mile virtual fence along the Canadian and Mexican borders. But there have been problems and the launch has been postponed.

"It is our expectation that these glitches get fixed and fixed immediately. We are simply not going to provide a tool to our front-line people that's not ready," Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said.

The passage of the anti-immigration bill rests on whether the virtual fence is capable of guarding U.S. borders. Until the border is secured, key provisions dealing with visas and guest workers would not be enacted.

The Boeing Corp., which won the $20 million contract to install the fence, is slated to installed nine portable 98-foot towers, cameras, radar and ground sensors. The cameras and sensors are all networked in order to up-to-the-second pictures of all the activity in their areas. But there have been delays and inconstancies and software glitches.

"This is probably much more experimental than they've let on," said Donald Kettl, the director of the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania, who has reported extensively and testified before Congress about the department's track record. "As is often the case with Department of Homeland Security projects, it is a very hard problem, and they are trying cutting-edge technology."

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