Chertoff: RFPs pending for border technology

The Homeland Security Department plans to solicit proposals soon for technology to be fielded along the U.S. border with Canada and Mexico as part of the Secure Border Initiative (SBI), according to Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff.

The initiative includes a range of measures, such as deploying the additional Border Patrol agents funded by Congress, providing more detention beds for illegal entrants and ending the 'catch-and-release' policy under which illegal border crossers have been apprehended, released and assigned adjudication dates that they routinely violate.

President Bush also has revived his proposal for a temporary worker program'which Congress has yet to approve'and DHS has forged agreements with several countries allowing the speedy return of citizens known as 'other than Mexican,' or OTM in Border Patrol parlance.

Chertoff fleshed out the details of the SBI at a press conference at the headquarters of DHS' Customs and Border Protection agency in downtown Washington.

The SBI's technology phase will be a retooling of the America's Shield Initiative, a previous plan to upgrade border technology that DHS officials found technically inadequate.

'We have a program [for border technology], and RFPs for an integrated package that will include integration of sensors, cameras and possibly satellite images [will be issued],' Chertoff said. 'This is the next generation of sensors,' he added. 'We do expect in short order to be soliciting proposals.'

Part of the plan includes deployment of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to help Border Patrol agents detect and apprehend illegal crossers, officials said. The patrol's experiments with UAVs over the past two years along parts of the Southern border have been successful, they said.

Chertoff emphasized that DHS still needs 'boots on the ground' as well as the other phases of SBI to gain control of the borders, but that technology would be part of the mix. The department has created a program office to oversee SBI's technology phase, he added.

An additional technology phase of SBI will be the improvement of methods for employers to check the eligibility of prospective workers for employment, Chertoff said. He acknowledged that employers currently have been stymied by federal responses to inquiries about employment eligibility.

Chertoff noted in response to a question that the technology phase would not include building a fence along the entire border because that would be extremely expensive and useless. But he did say that fences have proved their effectiveness along urban border areas.

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