Choppers, dogs and towers: Inside the Fed's fight against illegal immigrant intruders

SUNLAND PARK, N.M. — As Border Patrol agents work to combat the movement of illegal immigrants across the southern border in the El Paso Sector, they say a multi-layered enforcement system that has been expanded in recent years and combines the use of barriers with technology and other forms of enforcement has helped thwart cartel smuggling operations and nab illegal immigrants moving into the U.S.


Overshadowing the border in Sunland Park, New Mexico, is miles of border wall. Some of it is border fence built during the Obama administration, while other parts consist of Trump-era bollard wall. 

Fox News Digital was on the ground when agents nabbed illegal immigrants just feet from the fence they had cut a hole through. Even though they got through, it gave agents time to apprehend them. Agents generally prefer the bollard fencing, saying it is harder to cut through. And other parts of the fencing have been reinforced with bollards and, in some cases, filled with concrete.


Border wall

Some parts of the border fence have been reinforced with bollards to stop break-ins. (Fox News)

However, critics of barriers have noted that barriers are not a fix by themselves. Barriers, even those with bollards and filled with concrete, can be cut through. And strewn along the border were makeshift ladders and ropes, which migrants use to scale the barrier.

Along other parts of the border, wall construction isn’t possible. This is the case on the looming Mount Cristo Rey, a steep area where a wall cannot be built and the U.S.-Mexico border is marked only with obelisks. It is here that other layers of the enforcement strategy come into play.

Autonomous surveillance towers

The Biden administration stopped most border wall construction in 2021, although it has continued to make some repairs and moved forward with construction that had already been appropriated. Overall, however, it has instead emphasized the importance of technology. And in this area, agents say the administration has delivered.

There are now 24 autonomous surveillance towers (AST) in the El Paso Sector, and there are more than 50 deployed in the neighboring Big Bend Sector, officials say. The Biden administration’s fiscal 2025 budget includes an additional $127 million for “modernizing border security technology,” including additional deployments of towers.

The 24-hour-a-day towers, running on renewable energy, work by scanning the environment with radar. They use artificial intelligence to “hand off” from one another. So, if a group moves out of sight of one tower, the neighboring tower picks it up. The use of AST did not start with the Biden administration. It began during the Trump administration, but it has expanded dramatically under the current administration.


Surveillance towers at the border

Autonomous surveillance towers have increased significantly in recent years. (Fox News)

CBP says the technology comes into play even before migrants get into the U.S., allowing agents to plan before anyone even steps foot on U.S. soil. The AI technology can scan faces, differentiate between humans and wildlife and can send immediate alerts to agents in the field on their phones or tablets. It can also identify how many people are in a group. So, if agents are told to look for a group of eight migrants and find only five, they know there’s another three they still have to track down.


The towers have been deployed throughout the border, but here they are especially useful given the treacherous terrain in the mountains. With the towers in place, agents don’t need to chase migrants up the mountain. They can monitor and track them via the towers and wait for the migrants to eventually emerge (often exhausted) on flat land. 

Choppers, agents and K-9s

K9 canine border

Border Patrol agents use a K-9 to stop illegal immigrants and smugglers. (Fox News)

Should migrants get through the border wall and become spotted by the surveillance towers, they still need to be apprehended. This is where the Border Patrol agents will make the apprehensions. 

But they have assistance. The CBP Canine Unit is headquartered in El Paso, and some Border Patrol agents are trained how to use specially trained dogs to track down migrants and smugglers, in addition to the unit’s roles in other fields throughout CBP’s jurisdiction.

The K-9s can also help apprehend those illegal immigrants who may become violent and try to attack agents. Fox saw Canu, one of the K-9s deployed in Sunland Park, work with his handler as he sniffed the terrain for a possible lead.

Marine chopper

An Air and Marine Operations helicopter surveys the southern border in New Mexico. (Fox News)


Meanwhile, Border Patrol is also aided by helicopters from CBP’s Air and Marine Operations (AMO). They swoop over the mountains to conduct additional surveillance, scaring off migrants who may be planning on making the run across, while also allowing AMO to help with rescues quickly if needed.  

In the fiscal 2025 budget, the administration wants to invest an additional $210 million in staffing, which includes Border Patrol, as well as $86 million for AMO support.

Rescue towers

Another deployment here in El Paso is the use of rescue towers, which allow migrants to press a button to call for help. The 21 towers in the sector warn migrants they are in danger and can call for assistance. The button triggers a sharp blue light on top of the beacon visible by agents miles around.

Fox viewed one rescue tower situated near where there was an infamous case in 2021 of two young girls, 3 and 5, dropped off by a smuggler over the wall. Luckily, agents spotted and rescued them. Other migrants have not been so lucky, and there are plenty of instances of agents coming across dead bodies. These towers are designed to help prevent that.

Rescue Beacon

Rescue beacons are deployed throughout the southern border. (Fox News)

So far in fiscal 2024, agents in the El Paso Sector have rescued more than 300 migrants, but there have also been 34 migrant deaths.

Cooperation with state officials

While in nearby Texas there has been friction between the federal government and state officials, here in New Mexico, local authorities and CBP are working together. 

New Mexico state law enforcement will coordinate with Border Patrol to stop illegal immigrants coming across. Recently, officials in Dona Ana County announced a partnership to prosecute state offenses committed by smugglers.


Overall, Border Patrol believe the multi-layered enforcement strategy is working. They point to a sharp decrease in apprehensions over the last year. There were 427,471 in fiscal 2023 by Border Patrol in the sector. So far in fiscal 2024, which began in October, there have been just over 150,000. 

Separately, officials point to the busting of more than 136 stash houses, with over 1,377 smuggled migrants by their interdiction teams so far in fiscal 2024.

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