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Throughout 2019 tensions have been rising on the US-Mexico border. Since his election campaign President Trump has been complaining about rising numbers of migrants crossing America’s southern border – one of the longest in the world. His main policy solution is his much-touted border wall – although securing funding for this signature election promise remains locked in a series of legal challenges and appeals.

A new political deal with Mexico has seen enforcement efforts increase south of the border – with the Mexican government deploying soldiers along the border and stepping up policing of the key migration routes primarily used by migrants from other Central American states such as Honduras and Guatemala. However, reports suggest the results of this increased enforcement are unclear.

Despite the political bluster and sometimes controversial policy decisions – there is an issue here that needs solving. States are well within their rights to police their borders, either to prevent illegal immigration or to stop flows of criminal activity. However, for borders like the one between America and Mexico that task is challenging.

The sheer length of the border means it is unrealistic to be able to offer true 24/7 monitoring of the entire border with physical patrols or more traditional technology such as CCTV. But what if there was a technology that had already been proven to solve this exact issue? What if that work was done nearly 10 years ago?

In 2010, Fotech participated in a study with the University of Arizona as part of an independent investigation of the efficacy of our Helios Distributed Acoustic Sensor technology as a border security solution for the US-Mexico border.

The study consisted of a thorough review of the Helios system in the specific circumstances of the Arizona border – ensuring that the system could prove effective in the desert and loose alluvium sand found along the majority of the border.

Following testing the study concluded that the Fotech system showed significant potential for integration into existing border security systems. The results demonstrated that the Helios system offered an “easy-to-use” solution for detecting and differentiating between “events triggered by a group of people, cattle, horses, digging tunnels, cars or even ‘stealthy’ border crossers”.

The report also found that the Helios system could “help fill some of the gaps in border surveillance” efforts – delivering reduced costs compared to existing technologies, improved security, more apprehensions, reduced human and drug trafficking and detection of tunnel digging under the border.

The report also noted other advantages of the DAS solution – in particular highlighting the fact that “it is ‘invisible’ (once installed below ground, it leaves no ‘footprint’ on the ground)”, making it less likely to be detected. Ultimately, the report finds that the Helios DAS system could realistically provide continuous monitoring of the entire US-Mexico border.

Bear in mind that all of this work was done 10 years ago. Since that time DAS technology has only got more sophisticated– with automated event discrimination, more advanced detection information including direction of travel, and AI working to minimise false-positive alarms.

It just goes to show that once you strip away the political grandstanding, tech solutions for reducing illegal activity on the US-Mexico exist. It may not be as eye-catching as a wall (deliberately so!), but DAS offers the US a solution to many of the challenges it faces on its southern border.