What tools do we have to stop human smuggling?


PENITAS, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 10: A high-resolution surveillance camera, manned by U.S. military personnel, scans near the U.S.-Mexico border under moonlight on September 10, 2019 in Penitas, Texas. U.S. soldiers deployed to the border assist U.S. Border Patrol agents with surveillance, although troops are not authorized to detain immigrants themselves. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — Earlier this week, authorities discovered dozens of dead migrants in a tractor trailer in Texas, revealing one of the worst human smuggling tragedies in modern American history. Although the factors that drive people to smugglers, like those that push migrants to engage in illicit migration more broadly, are complex, border enforcement remains the most immediate response to human smuggling.

For years, border authorities have worked to crack down on the practice, which has been concentrated in the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas.

Here are a couple of the tools they have been using to respond.


The technology firm Unisys has been providing systems to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol that can be used to detect potentially suspicious travelers or cargo. Their LineSight software can use available data to make risk assessments that can then help inform authorities about whether they should do a more thorough inspection.

The advantage of using this kind of algorithmic detection is that it can digest a lot of information quickly to predict where risks exist. “It became clear more recently that statistical methods and analytical tools would be a better approach than trying to consolidate watch lists to find patterns,” Mark Forman, global head of Unisys Public Sector, told GCN.

But civil liberties advocates worry that relying on algorithms to predict criminal behavior could reinforce existing biases and result in improper profiling.


Around 175 solar-powered autonomous towers have been erected along the southern border, designed to use a combination of radar, cameras, and thermal imaging to feed information to an artificial intelligence system that can help detect vehicles or people and alert Border Patrol to their presence.

“These towers give agents in the field a significant leg up against the criminal networks that facilitate illegal cross-border activity,” then-Border Patrol chief Rodney Scott said in 2020. “The more our agents know about what they encounter in the field, the more safely and effectively they can respond.”

Some critics have argued that this technology could simply divert migrants to more perilous paths. “There’s been a lot of talk about how surveillance is a more humane alternative to a wall, but what we know is that when these technologies are placed on the border, they end up forcing people to take even more dangerous routes through the desert,” Dinesh McCoy, a staff attorney who works at Just Futures Law, told The Washington Post.

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