NOGALES, AZ (Tucson News Now) - With cameras virtually everywhere and hundreds of Border Patrol agents saturating downtown Nogales, detecting drug smugglers, and illegal immigr ants in a city environment is very different from doing so in the desert.
That's where Integrated Fixed Towers, or IFTs, come into play.
"It's called integrated because it has different technologies on it," said Border Patrol Agent Vicente Paco, pointing at a mammoth tower in a remote desert area north of Nogales.
To most people, it looks like any other communications tower. But to the U.S. Border Patrol, "It's a great asset, a force multiplier," Paco said.
First authorized by Customs and Border Protection in 2014, the IFT provides 360-degree surveillance utilizing laser pointers, along with radar and infrared technology to detect virtually anything that moves in the desert.
"If it's a group of armed drug mules or bandits … then we'll respond with the appropriate amount of force," Paco said.
Seven strategically-placed towers near Nogales are about to expand across the state.
"Now we're going to move onto the next phase which is adding up to 52 towers throughout the Tucson Sector," Paco said. "That's going to start at the New Mexico state line all the way to the Yuma County line."
Plans to expand CBP's $145 million program coincide with controversial video shot last week when a TV crew from Mexico recorded two suspected drug smugglers climbing the border fence in Nogales and entering the United States illegally.
"What happened in that situation? And from CBP's perspective, why were those individuals not brought into custody?" Tucson News Now asked Paco.
"Obviously part of our job is to interdict or deter," Paco said.
Border Patrol officials said they had eyes on the situation the entire time. And the decision to stand down, they said, was based on children playing nearby, plus several homes and businesses potentially in harm's way.
"There was multiple things going on at the same time and responding with overwhelming force, going 60 miles per hour on a border road where other vehicles were driving and in this case there were reporters there - it wasn't the best response at the time," Paco said.
"We're not going to overreact to a situation and we're going to react with the necessary force in putting our agents at a tactical advantage and also ensuring that the public is not at risk by our actions," Paco said.