falfurias border photo

The Border Patrol makes its presence known in Falfurrias, Texas. The Rio Grande Valley is now the busiest migrant-crossing corridor. Credit: G.W. Schulz/The Center for Investigative Reporting

CIR reporters Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz and news applications developer Michael Corey, who recently produced an interactive map of drugs seized at the U.S.-Mexico border, will answer your questions in a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) at noon PT/3 p.m. ET Thursday. Here’s the live link.

Since 2009, Becker and Schulz have been investigating drug smuggling, corruption and the rise of U.S. Border Patrol. The agency – which has ballooned from 4,000 officers in 2000 to more than 21,000 now – recently was named the winner of Investigative Reporters and Editors’ Golden Padlock Award, which recognizes “a U.S. government agency or individual for unrelenting commitment to undermining the public’s right to know.”



In Congress, passing immigration reform hinges on securing the border. On Monday, the Senate cleared the way for an amendment that, for $38 billion, would almost double the size of Border Patrol by adding nearly 20,000 agents. It also calls for construction of 700 miles of border fencing. The amendment modifies the bipartisan “Gang of Eight” bill, which already calls for $8 billion for personnel, drone technology and resources for border security and would provide pathways to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. without authorization. The Senate is slated to vote on the bill by the end of the week. 

Based on internal Border Patrol data, here’s some of what we’ve found about what’s going on along the U.S.-Mexico border: 

  • How are drones being used for border security? A drone called VADER, for Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar, reveals that Border Patrol agents are not catching all of those trying to cross. The technology, intended for use in the Afghanistan War, “can reveal every man, woman and child under its gaze from a height of about 25,000 feet,” we reported in an April story. Records show that during a three-month period between October and December, VADER detected 7,333 border crossers in Arizona, while Border Patrol agents reported 410 apprehensions in that same period.
  • Are deterrence policies workingDespite zero-tolerance policies that are meant to keep the same people from attempting to cross the border, data shows that in more than 21,000 cases in 2012, agents apprehended border crossers who already had been caught six or more times.
  • What kinds of drugs are being seized along the southern border? Marijuana was the most-seized drug at U.S.-Mexico border checkpoints – overwhelmingly so. According to seizure data from Customs and Border Protection ports of entry and Border Patrol stations, marijuana constituted nearly 89 percent of all drug seizures from 2005 to 2011. That’s 17 million pounds of weed, or – if you rolled all that pot into a giant joint – enough to make a joint that’s taller than the Washington Monument. (Cocaine came in a distant second.) Our interactive map shows more.
  • How are border towns coping? The U.S. Department of Justice’s refusal to prosecute low-level drug offenses is bankrupting small border towns. In Hudspeth County, Texas, officials estimate that “for every dollar that comes to the county from handling federal border crimes and seized assets, it costs about $2 to detain, prosecute and process offenders,” we reported in a story this month.
  • For more, visit our project Crossing the Line

What questions do you have about border security? Has the U.S.-Mexico border been militarized, and is it helping to stop people from crossing illegally? Would putting more money into the border work? What border issues should the American public be paying attention to?

Check in to Reddit at noon PT Thursday to join the discussion. 

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Kelly Chen is a news engagement specialist at The Center for Investigative Reporting. She manages the day-to-day social media strategies and online engagement for CIR. In addition, she works to break down complex issues and ideas and create content for CIR's online communities. Kelly also works to increase engagement on cironline.org and on other online platforms. Previously, she produced discussion segments for PBS NewsHour and oversaw social media and engagement efforts for the American Graduate project, a public media initiative on the high school dropout crisis. She's also worked at Southern California Public Radio and National Geographic TV. A native of Los Angeles, she studied international relations and English at UC Davis.