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Article - Mexican Border Issues

Border Fence Project is a collaborative effort of the Minuteman Movement of citizen patriot volunteers

Ana Campoy/Wall Street Journal/March 19, 2010


CAMPO, Calif.—Jim Wood doesn't think the U.S. government is adequately guarding the border with Mexico here. So he has taken on the job himself.

While the federal government fumbles with mishaps and delays in the so-called virtual fence—a network of cameras, sensors and radar that has cost more than $600 million—Mr. Wood is installing his own surveillance system with equipment from Fry's Electronics and eBay.

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The decision by the Department of Homeland Security to freeze funding for the federal project this week only intensified his sense of mission. "As a nonprofit, we're far more efficient than them," he said.

The 45-year-old Web developer has set up 20 cameras at a private ranch here, 50 miles east of San Diego. He wants to eventually over the roughly 2,000 miles from Texas to California.

But if the goal is to show up the government, it isn't working as Mr. Wood planned, thanks to the border's tough weather and vast wilderness.

On a recent rainy afternoon, 16 of Mr. Wood's cameras, which run on solar power, were down; the water had disabled two of the remaining four. The motion detector was off because it was mostly triggered by wind-stirred vegetation, not illegal crossers.

Similar snags prompted Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Tuesday to divert some of the federal project's funding towards more practical tools, such as mobile radios and laptops. With the exception of a small section in Arizona currently being tested, spending on the ambitious border-long system is on hold until a review she ordered in January is completed.

Known as the Secure Border Initiative Network, the federal project was supposed to be working along most of the Southwest border by 2009.

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