Minuteman Project Brings High-Tech Security to Arizona Border

If you build it, they won't come.

That's the hope of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, who are behind a nearly one-mile long fence now under construction on an Arizona ranch along the U.S.-Mexico border.

As politicians wrangle over whether to build barriers along the nation's borders and how to pay for them, the MCDC started building the first of what they plan to be many state-of-the-art border protection systems using donated technology never before seen in the United States and originally developed for use along the Korean peninsula's Demilitarized Zone.

"Each journey begins with a first step, and this is the first mile," said Connie Hair, spokeswoman for the group.

On Thursday, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006. The legislation calls for 700 miles of both real and virtual fencing and southern border security as well as a feasibility study of barriers for the northern border with Canada.

"We're helping our Border Patrol agents do their job," Bush said before the signing, noting the bill is "an important step in our nation's efforts to secure our borders."

But months before the Secure Fence Act was passed by Congress, the MCDC decided to take border security into its own hands. In May, the group barb-wired a 10-mile stretch of border on another Arizona ranch.

"If the government won't build it, we're a self-governing people, we need to step up and do it," Hair said.

Utilizing high-tech gadgetry straight out of a "James Bond" movie, the Minuteman's latest project is a .9-mile-long barrier designed to be an early detection and warning system to aid the U.S. Border Patrol in its fight against illegal immigration.

"We're trying to demonstrate that you can have an extremely effective, multi-tiered approach to the problem of illegal immigrants coming across the border, and we're trying to show that you can combine technology with just a good old-fashioned tall fence," said Peter Kunz, project manager for the Minuteman fence system.

The system, built with private donations and scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, will create a dual barrier across the southern line of W. Richard Hodges' 372-acre cattle ranch near Naco, Ariz.

A chain-link fence covered in fiber-optic netting will detect unwanted intruders, while a 14-foot "Israeli-style" no-climb steel fence 20- to 30-feet behind that will bar people and cattle from crossing into the United States, the MDCD says.

Three cameras placed along the no-climb fence will use facial recognition software to identify possible intruders, Kunz said.

"All of this will be hooked into the Internet, which will be able to monitor all of the cameras from the Internet," Hair said. "It will even e-mail you and call you on your cell phone to tell you that there's been an intrusion or an attempted intrusion."

Once operational, "Cyber Minutemen" will be able to log onto the Border Fence Project Web site to telepatrol Hodges' border-front property and others.

It's the first time at least one of the technologies will be applied to a domestic operation. The fiber-optic netting, called FOMGuard, was designed by South Korean scientists for use along the DMZ, said Nina May, chairwoman of FOMGuard USA.

The company donated $7.8 million worth of the material to the Minuteman corps, Kunz said.

"We thought this is a perfect opportunity to deploy it to show that the stand-alone sensors, that have been standard in the industry, in addition to this type of integrated technology with the cameras and facial recognition software, that it would be very easy and very inexpensive to protect our borders without all the political hyperbole that we've been hearing about," May said.

A Huntsville, Ala., company, Digilant Systems, is creating cameras with facial recognition software for use on the fence, Hair said.

With donations for materials, Kunz said the actual cost of the double-fence on the Hodges property could be as little as $150 per foot. And plans are under way for more barriers on other private lands.

"Ultimately we're looking to do about 70 miles of total fencing just in Arizona. And then we're talking to folks in California, New Mexico and Texas as well," Kunz said.

While the MCDC drives fence posts into the Hodges property, the federal government is pushing ahead with plans of its own, besides the Secure Fence Act.

In September, the Department of Homeland Security awarded a contract to Boeing for border infrastructure and technology as part of the Secure Border Initiative, the government's five-year plan to stem illegal immigration along the country's 6,000 miles of northern and southern border.
The first task is "Project 28," a program along a 28-mile stretch in the Tucson sector, according to Michael Friel, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff put the price tag at $67 million when he announced the Boeing contract.

Project 28 has begun near Sasabe, Ariz., a region known for its high illegal-immigration traffic, Friel said. It is expected to be completed in 8 months.

Among the members of the Boeing-led project are Kollsman Inc., a thermal-imaging company; telecommunications company Lucent Technologies; and DRS Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group, a Florida-based imaging company.

"What we're looking for is proven technology to help us secure the border," Friel said. That includes "smart fencing," combining barriers with sensor technology.

The government will use various types of fencing and barriers on a case-by-case basis, depending on the terrain, Friel said. Those will include the use of fences, roads and lights as well as cameras, sensors and radar.

"You'll see both at some point, depending on the environment, tactical infrastructure, as well as in other places, you'll see something like a virtual fence — that you may not see a fence that stands up, but the effects are the same — where we are able to detect and respond to and apprehend individuals who are trying to cross the border illegally."

Friel declined to comment on what U.S. Customs and Border Protection thinks of the Minuteman fence.

Hodges, whose great-grandfather August Schlaudt settled the property as a homesteader in the late 19th century, is betting the Minuteman fence will put a stop to the undocumented immigration that has steadily increased since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994.

"They all started come up here, and in droves," he said. "It is not unusual to see 20 to 30 people at a time … the Border Patrol has had so many people on my place that they had to bring down a Greyhound bus to pick them up."

Hodges differentiates between the throngs of undocumented aliens and the "serious folks," his euphemism for the armed drug runners and "coyotes," or human traffickers, who often cut through his property. His home is less than a mile from the border.

"These people that are the real threatening types. With these cameras and stuff — they don't want to be identified," he said. "So I think they'll just keep on going, they'll skirt me completely."