Since the election of President Trump, the Department of Homeland Security has been a topic of much discussion, particularly the Customs and Border Protection agency. Trump’s campaign promises of building a border wall, 24-hour drone surveillance along the borders and increasing the size of the Border Patrol are beginning to come to fruition.
At the end of January, President Trump signed an executive order authorizing the “immediateconstruction of a physical wall on the southern border,” to be patrolled and supported by “adequate personnel” to curb illegal immigration, drug trafficking and human trafficking. The Trump administration has already decided where the first stretches of the border wall will be built: a 14-mile border wall in San Diego, 28 miles of levee barriers, 14 miles of replacement fencing in San Diego and a 6-mile border wall along the Rio Grande valley.
Bidding for the wall closed at the beginning of the month, with over 200 companies expressing interest in the project. Customs and Border Protection has chosen a plot of federally owned land in San Diego to be the staging ground for several wall prototypes. CBP outlined that each prototype wall must be 30 feet long and range in height from 18 to 30 feet. Finalists will be announced in June with the expectation that prototype construction will be completed 30 days later.
In order to man and maintain the border wall, CBP seeks to reach the congressional mandate of 21,370 agents by hiring 6,700 agents and 5,000 new officers. Border Patrol Chief Ronald Vitiello noted that the U.S. Border Patrol hasn’t reached the minimum number of agents required by Congress for the past few years, something that he hopes to rectify quickly.
While executive orders, bidding closing and plans to hire over 11 thousand new agents and officers are most certainly big news, the most profound development in the Trump administration’s plans for protecting U.S. borders was DHS’s request for small drones that are capable of running facial recognition tools. DHS released a solicitation at the end of March detailing requirements for the drones. The drones must have sensor capabilities that can surveil a range of 3 miles, the ability to track multiple targets persistently and, perhaps most importantly, be able to “[identify] humans via facial recognition or other biometric at range.”
The facial recognition capabilities of the drones must also allow for the cross-referencing of “any persons identified with relevant law enforcement databases.” In 2016, Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology released a report that stated “One in two American adults is in a law enforcement face recognition network.” Furthermore, a 2017 GAO report concluded that the FBI has a database of over 411 million facial images, with some images obtained from driver’s license photos from 16 states.
However, as the CATO Institute has pointed out in an article published on Monday, the actions of the CBP are not limited strictly to America’s land borders. Currently, the CBP is legally able to stop and search vehicles within a 100-mile range of America’s external boundary. The ACLU has named this 100-mile range a “Constitution-free” zone. The CATO Institute went on to note that approximately two-thirds of the nation’s population live in this so-called “Constitution-free” zone.
Despite the moniker, the “Constitution-free” zone is not literally unbeholden to the Constitution. U.S. citizens living in these areas are still protected by the Constitution. The ACLU outlined its thought-process in naming the 100-mile border zone a “Constitution-free” zone explaining that although the Fourth Amendment protects U.S. citizens from random stops and searches, it does not fully apply to the nation’s borders. At ports of entry into the U.S., federal authorities “do not need a warrant or even suspicion of wrongdoing to justify conducting what courts have called a ‘routine search,’ such as searching luggage or a vehicle.”
If you’re interested in learning more about current and future CBP initiatives and policies, you can attend the Potomac Officer Club’s Border Protection Innovations and Technology Forum. The Forum will be held on April 26th, from 7:00 – 9:45am at 2941 Restaurant, 2941 Fairview Park Dr. Falls Church, VA 22042. Speakers include:
Ron Vitiello – Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (KEYNOTE SPEAKER)
Mark Borkowski – Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Acquisition and CBP’s Chief Acquisition Officer and Component Acquisition Executive of U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Shonnie Lyon – Director, Office of Biometric Identity Management of U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Arun Vemury – Program Manager, People Screening, Science and Technology Directorate of U.S. Department of Homeland Security
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