Senate Immigration Bill Calls For a Drone-Patrolled Border

And the extra billions earmarked in the bill for a new border security strategy could help authorities tackle at least some of the other problems with the border drone program.

Problems like getting them up in the air. Last May, Homeland Security's Inspector General reported that the border drones were on the ground 70 percent of the time they were supposed to be flying. Bad weather was one excuse, but the Inspector General also cited management problems and a lack of qualified staff and equipment.

David Shirk said he thinks more drones patrolling the border would be effective in revealing smuggling patterns.

"(But) the real question is, number one, will we be able to use the information we get from drones effectively to address the problem? And two, what's the cost-benefit?" he said.

CBP has never released such an analysis publicly. And some security experts wonder if there could there be other types of drones or technology that could better provide that Holy Grail of effective border control.

Maybe. But right now, CBP is already locked into a nearly half-billion dollar contract with San Diego's General Atomics. The contract covers maintenance and equipment for the existing fleet, and up to 14 new drones.

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