Glenn Spencer, president of the American Border Patrol, stands in what he calls his border communications and information center. This is the nerve center where radio, satellite and digital high-speed Internet systems capture and compile information. (Mark Levy-Herald/Review)
Group watches the border with some high-tech help
By BILL HESS
Herald/Review - 10/29/02
SIERRA VISTA -- From his command center, Glenn Spencer can watch a bank of televisions, listen to what is being said on radio stations, use computers to obtain real-time scenes of illegal border-crossings and put together Hawkeye reports by people who provide information to him.
The purpose is to have a real-time system capable of informing the American public of the illegal activities along the U.S.-Mexico border, he said.
The center allows him to immediately put out video and other information provided by Hawkeyes -- as he calls his volunteers who watch the border.
In the future, a map room will be available to allow people to follow the activities along the border from Texas to California, Spencer said.
Whenever something on television or radio is important, it can be captured and transferred to a computer to be edited for a package the American Border Patrol may distribute, he said.
In the facility there is a number of video and compact disc products, the work of Spencer and others, telling their side of the illegal immigrant and drug smuggling incidents.
Spencer, executive director of the American Border Patrol, established the organization and recently set up its headquarters in Cochise County.
For security and privacy reasons, he asked the exact location of the command center not be published. It is in an upper-middle class neighborhood south of Sierra Vista.
The organization was recently notified it has been accepted as a tax-deductible nonprofit organization by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
"We are waiting for the official letter, so we can start fundraisers," Spencer said.
By raising money, the American Border Patrol will be able to purchase high-tech equipment for people to use to monitor the border.
Some of the equipment will be global positioning systems, satellite phones and four-wheel, all-terrain vehicles.
On his patio is a new ATV with some of the equipment that will be used by people who want to patrol the border.
The vehicle and equipment, which will include medical kits and water to provide emergency help to illegal immigrants who need it, will cost about $5,500 per unit, he said.
At no time will illegal immigrants be treated and let go, Spencer said. Rather, they will be helped where they are found until the U.S Border Patrol comes to take them into custody, he added.
The federal agency has put some groups on notice that they cannot remove an illegal immigrant for medical treatment, only the U.S. Border Patrol can do that. Some humanitarian groups have been accused of helping injured or sick illegal immigrants then releasing them and not informing the federal agency.
Spencer said not everything is going as well as he had initially hoped.
The area of disappointment is the small number of Hawkeyes who have signed up, he said.
"I'm a little disappointed in the number" he said, of the approximately 60 Hawkeyes who are part of the organization.
There is about an equal number of people who provide information but have not officially signed up, he added.
Spencer said he expects the number to increase once people understand the organization is only going to watch the border, report on illegal activities "and not take the law into our own hands."
Spencer and some of his other groups -- The American Patrol and Voice of Citizens Together -- are not seen in a favorable light. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers Spencer to have racist viewpoints, and the two California-based organizations are listed as hate groups.
Spencer denies those labels, saying he is against illegal immigration, much of which crosses the southern border, and the illegal importation of drugs into the United States.
The American Border Patrol has not been listed as a hate group by the Mississippi-based Southern Poverty Law Center, although an official with that group said it is keeping a close watch on Spencer and his new organization.