Senators Call for Scrapping 'Virtual Fence'

WASHINGTON — Two senators said Tuesday it's time to consider ending a contract for a "virtual fence" along the U.S.-Mexico border, contending it doesn't stop illegal immigration.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., even suggested an old-fashioned, real fence may work better than the electronic one designed by Boeing Co.

"We're counting on you to give us a direct assessment and take action to either terminate the contract or take from it what may work," Lieberman told Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin.

Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said at a hearing on border security: "The best answer to this continuing crisis and continued flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. is to go back to the old-style fences, double- and triple-tiered, and layered."

Sen. Roland Burris, D-Ill., asked Bersin whether the contract could be canceled. Bersin said he was not able to render a judgment on a legal issue.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in March that she was halting funding to expand the virtual fence that originally was supposed to monitor most of the 2,000-mile southern U.S. border by 2011. It now covers only a portion of Arizona's boundary with Mexico.

The virtual fence is a network of cameras, ground sensors and radars designed to let a small number of dispatchers watch the border on a computer monitor, zoom in with cameras to see people crossing, and decide whether to send Border Patrol agents to the scene.

The fence was part of President George W. Bush's security plan.

Bersin said that the contractor has been unable to integrate the system to allow central monitoring of the border.

"In the near term, the secretary (Napolitano) concluded the wholesale integration is not a goal that is practicable or would produce the kind of results we want to see," Bersin said.

After the shooting death of a rancher, Republican Sens. Jon Kyl and John McCain of Arizona asked Monday for National Guard troops to be deployed along Arizona's border.

The request for 3,000 troops was part of a 10-point plan that includes hiring 3,000 more Customs and Border Protection agents for Arizona, building new fences and increasing aerial surveillance.