Mohana Ravindranath | Nextgov | October 5, 2017 | 0 Comments

Border Security Markup Includes Smart Wall Provisions

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

A House effort to incorporate sensors, radar and other surveillance technology into a border wall with Mexico appears to be gaining traction.

The House Homeland Security Committee this week passed the Border Security for America Act, which sets aside $10 billion for the deployment of the wall and supporting technology along the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as $5 billion specifically for enhancing other ports of entry.

The bill, introduced by House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, also directs the Homeland Security Secretary to “deploy the most practical and effective technology available” for “situational awareness”—that technology might include radar, sensors, unmanned cameras, aerial drones and tunneling detection, according to the bill’s text.

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Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, introduced similar provisions in the Secure Miles with All Resources and Technology Act, or SMART Act earlier this summer. That bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, David Valadao, R-Calif., Steve Knight, R-Calif., Steve Pearce, R-N.M., Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., and Keith Rothfus, R-Penn, also directs the Homeland Security Department to deploy technology along the border and would establish a two-year grant program for upgrading communication networks.

The committee this week also adopted two of Hurd’s amendments to the Border Security for America Act. The first would ensure that physical barriers would not be deployed in areas where the natural terrain, such as canyons, would render them ineffective; the second would let pre-existing park access agreements between Customs and Border Protection would take precedence over any activity outlined in the Border Security for America Act.

In certain areas like Big Bend National Park, “rough terrain, natural barriers, and the remoteness of a location render a wall or other structure impractical and ineffective,” Hurd said in a statement. His district includes 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“While I would like to think that common sense would dictate that the placement of a wall through the Boquillas Canyon in Big Bend or Lake Amistad in Del Rio is a bad idea, my amendment ensures that it this point is clearly stated in this the bill, preventing hard-earned taxpayer dollars from being wasted on ineffective features.”

Maintaining agreements between Customs and Border Protection and park staff could maintain “the scenic nature of the park without sacrificing security operations,” he said.

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