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Drones credited with catching 50,000 illegal entries at border

The Border Patrol credited its eyes in the sky for leading agents to more than 50,000 immigrants who illegally crossed the border in the government’s most recent fiscal year.

In the government’s fiscal 2022 year, which ended Sept. 30, Border Patrol reported that 51,248 apprehensions of illegal immigrants were the direct result of using drones.

Drones, also called unmanned aerial systems, have increasingly been used by federal law enforcement agents at America’s land, air, and sea borders to track unauthorized entries. This past year, they played a unique role in helping agents get a bird’s-eye view of groups that are unable to be tracked on foot or by vehicle.


Drones are also used by cartels that smuggle people, drugs, guns, and currency in and out of the country.

Over the past decade, federal police on the southern border have seen more cartel-operated drones transporting small bundles of valuable narcotics through the air and down to someone on the U.S. side.

A drone can fly several miles from its operator. Users can operate the drone with a remote control or input instructions and let the drone operate without a guide. Either way, the owner is able to avoid being captured by U.S. federal law enforcement while smuggling drugs, money, firearms, or other items between countries.

Between being unaware of just how widely the Mexican cartels are using drones to smuggle contraband over the border and being unable to do anything when they are seen, it’s nearly impossible for agents to determine who sent the drone and prosecute that person.

Federal law enforcement officers and agents do not have any tools for detecting a drone outside of their eyes and ears. Even if they do spot a drone that appears to be carrying drugs, they can’t shoot it down with their gun. Counterdrone tools exist in the private sector, but they have not yet been approved for agents to use, leaving them helpless to do anything.


Getting more drones and systems that can electronically force down enemy drones has been a slow process. The Trump administration focused its budget requests on physical barriers on the border, leaving little money for technology.

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