Washington, USA, 12 July 2006: For some National Guard troops heading to the U.S.-Mexico border to bolster security, Pentagon officials plan to assign a mapmaking unit from the Alabama National Guard to research and develop new charts of the region, updating maps of a boundary that originally was delineated more than 150 years ago. Accurate maps will help U.S. government agents find their way around rugged terrain and show where the territory they are patrolling ends and where Mexico beings.
Though some of the border follows rivers and the rest is marked by monuments and some fencing, a number of the markers are so far apart that it’s hard to tell where the boundary is in some remote desert areas. So, planners see mapping the region using satellite imagery and military technology as a good use of some of the Guard resources that President Bush has ordered deployed.
“There’s parts of that border that are very, very poorly marked and very difficult to discern when you’re in the United States or when you’re in Mexico,” said Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, head of the Pentagon’s National Guard Bureau. “(The Guard’s mapping unit) can go down there and actually chart and map the borders in areas where it’s contentious or it could be misinterpreted.”
That the government is devoting military time and money to making better maps underscores how difficult patrolling and securing the border is. Immigrants and smugglers can sneak into the country illegally through harsh and remote territory, often crossing mountains along the way. Though sensors and cameras are scattered around the region, it can take hours for U.S. Border Patrol agents to reach areas where migrants are suspected of hiding.
Agents do sometimes accidentally enter Mexican territory while pursuing suspects, and Mexican military units have crossed into the United States, as well. The new maps may not stop this from happening, but could reduce confusion about where the line is. But most Border Patrol agents rely on knowledge of their patrol area and high-tech global positioning satellite systems, not maps.