House subpanel approves border patrol technology

In an effort to enhance border security in lieu of a comprehensive immigration bill, the House Science Technology and Innovation Subcommittee approved a bill aimed at beefing up technological advancements that could help the border patrol.

The bill (H.R.3916) was approved on a voice vote with no disagreement. The bill moves to the full Science and Technology Committee where it is expected to also get favorable treatment.

The bill calls for the border patrol to define its technological needs, whether that is global positioning systems or advanced unmanned surveillance vehicles or whatever they need. It calls on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to study available technologies and report back to Congress within one year with recommendations.

The bill also calls for pilot projects to determine the efficacy of some of the technologies, including unmanned "drone" aircraft.

"It (the bill) is a necessary predicate to comprehensive immigration reform," Science and Technology Subcommittee Chairman David Wu, D-Ore., said after the markup session. "It will help create a better environment to do immigration reform."

The bill calls for DHS to seek the ability to routinely and safely operate unmanned aerial vehicles on the border without seeking special permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), as they now have to do. And it calls for research into ground based sensor systems to detect illegal border crossings.

"If we can float them in space, we can hide them in gravel," Wu said of the detection systems.

The committee approved one amendment by Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., that called for a study on global positioning systems. The amendment was approved on voice vote.

Ranking member Ralph Hall, R-Texas, who sponsored the bill, said lack of progress on an overall immigration bill should not deter other efforts.

"While I understand the concerns many members have regarding comprehensive immigration reform, we should not allow that issue to stymie progress deterring terrorists, drug smugglers, and human traffickers."

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