WASHINGTON – A popular, but controversial Web site set up so anyone with Internet access can help keep watch over the porous U.S. southern border is scheduled to be back up and running early next year.
The site run by the State of Texas, www.Texasborderwatch.com — which is now dark — is getting a $3 million no-strings-attached cash infusion that will be used to pay for the citizen-watch program, Gov. Rick Perry's office said Monday.
The site drew 28 million hits in a one-month test run last November, averaging about 43,000 hits per hour, according to information posted on the program Web site and confirmed by Perry's office. The popularity crashed the computer servers and flooded law enforcement officials with tipster information.
But the program's effectiveness remains to be seen. During the test-run, the program generated about 13,000 e-mails to law-enforcement, leading only to the arrest of 10 illegal immigrants.
Despite the mixed results, Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle told FOX News Texas is moving forward with the program, which includes about 200 "strategically" placed cameras along the border. The state will also be seeking bidders in the coming weeks to run the system, which will also include a server system that would be able to handle higher traffic than the one tested in November 2006.
From the test-run last year, Castle said, "We were able to determine that using these cameras is effective. ... It disrupts the criminal activity."
Castle said more details will be available once the state puts its official bid request out selects a company to work with, but she said the cameras will go on private property in high-traffic areas, and they will be mobile so law enforcement can change their locations as needed.
She also said that the cameras will not be identified by location, so if someone is viewing it on their home or office monitor, they won't know precisely where they're looking. That is a safeguard to keep criminals from using the program as their own intelligence.
The governor's office expects a majority of cameras to be available for public viewing, according to Castle.
"The goal of this program is deterring and disrupting criminal activity," she said.
While the program might help in stemming illegal immigration, it may not be as cost-effective as other approaches, said Steve Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, an immigration law enforcement advocacy think-tank.
"This kind of system can be helpful. It highlights the problem and does some good, but obviously, it's not a substitute for fencing and patrolling," Camarota said. "It's important mainly because it reminds Washington this (immigration problem) isn't going away."
But the camera-watch camera program might create more problems than it solves, said Luis Figueroa, an attorney and spokesman for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
"It's not an effective way of doing enforcement," Figueroa said.
He said Border Patrol offices were flooded with nuisance calls last year, and there's a strong likelihood that people not familiar with the border social or geographic terrain watching the Web cameras — from anywhere in the world— will call in more false alarms.
"A private individual in Austin, watching a Web cam 300 miles away, isn't going to have any idea what's going on," Figueroa said. He noted that the initial program also had problems with camera definition, where viewers could not clearly see what cameras were capturing.
Figueroa said that rather than this type of program, the best solutions are found in the now-stalled comprehensive immigration reform proposals that were halted due to Republican opposition in Congress during successive attempts in 2006 and 2007. The plan sought to give some illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship — which was criticized by opponents as amnesty — while beefing up enforcement along the border and for employers who hire illegal immigrants.
"First and foremost, it (immigration) is a federal responsibility. ... When you have a state that isn't familiar with immigration enforcement, doesn't have the training ... or even the authority to enforce immigration laws, that's where the problems are," Figueroa said.