Tech companies are increasingly bullish on building a “smart wall,” which would incorporate new technologies to beef up security on the southern border.
Many firms see a potential windfall with both Democrats and Republicans floating the idea of tech improvements as an alternative to President Trump‘s call for a steel barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Democrats have said they would back as much as $5.7 billion for a smart wall. Trump himself discussed the idea when announcing the deal to end the recent government shutdown.
“The walls we are building are not medieval walls. They are smart walls designed to meet the needs of frontline border agents,” the president said last Friday. Trump’s critics, though, noted he had first dismissed the idea when it was proposed by Democrats.
The tech and defense industries have long pushed for technology to be a centerpiece of efforts to secure the border. Now they see new momentum for the idea as a bicameral, bipartisan group of lawmakers seek to hash out a border deal to avoid a second shutdown.
“We cannot focus on archaic solutions in order to address this very modern problem,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), one of the conferees, said during the group’s first meeting on Wednesday. “Technology works for securing the border.”
Some of the technologies floated include drones to surveil areas border agents cannot easily see, biometrics to check people entering the U.S. with their IDs, and sensors that detect people moving across the border.
The encouraging atmosphere has companies looking to highlight technologies that could be deployed.
Elbit Systems of America, a U.S.-based subsidiary of top Israeli defense company Elbit Systems, told The Hill it “stands ready” to expand its work at the border. Elbit has worked with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to build “integrated fixed towers” equipped with radars and cameras, along approximately 200 miles of the border in Arizona, and says it is prepared to deploy that equipment in other border states, including Texas and California.
“We’re standing by with the ability to deploy more for border patrol to support their mission, pending the outcomes of some of the discussions that are happening right now by the lawmakers and others,” Gordon Kesting, Elbit Systems of America’s vice president, told The Hill. “We think we’re in a good position to leverage the good work that’s been done to date and do things quickly in response to what might be a sense of urgency around more border security.”
Alex Philp, the founder and chief technology officer of Montana-based company Adelos, Inc., told The Hill his company hopes to inform supportive lawmakers about its product: a fiber optic cable that could alert agents to movements along the border.
Philp told The Hill that Adelos, which is competing for a contract with CBP, has been in communication with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who sits on the border talks committee.
Philp called the company’s home state senator “a big supporter of what we’ve been doing.”
Executives who spoke to The Hill had high hopes for the talks.
Philp said he believes the panel’s lawmakers are finally “energizing smart alternatives to physical barriers.”
Despite the new momentum there are potential roadblocks ahead. Republicans and Democrats are still divided on the need for including new physical barriers on the border, a key demand of Trump.