SIERRA VISTA, Ariz, Dec 27 - U.S. authorities took possession of an additional high-tech surveillance drone on Tuesday to overfly the rugged Arizona borderlands to look for drug smugglers and illegal immigrants crossing from Mexico.
The Predator-B drone is based at the National Air Security Operations Center in Sierra Vista, a few miles north of the Mexico border in southeast Arizona, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency said.
The addition brings CBP's fleet of surveillance drones along the nearly 2,000-mile southwest border with Mexico to six. Four are based at the Arizona center, and two more overfly the border from Corpus Christi, Texas.
"The missions from these two centers will allow CBP to deploy its unmanned aircraft from the eastern tip of California across the common Mexican land borders of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas," CBP said in a statement.
The unmanned aircraft are equipped with tools including powerful day and night vision cameras which enable operators to spot incursions by drug traffickers and illegal immigrants slipping over the border from Mexico.
The surveillance operations under the program have led to the seizure of around 46,600 pounds of illicit drugs and 7,500 arrests along the southwest border.
This past year, arrests of illegal immigrants crossing north over the southwest border dropped to 327,577, their lowest level since 1972 when President Richard Nixon was in the White House.
Factors in the stark decline have included tightened border and workplace enforcement, a slowed U.S. economy providing fewer jobs to undocumented workers, and increased drug cartel-related violence in Mexico making the journey north more hazardous, according to analysts.
The arrival of the Predator-B marks the second of two unmanned aircraft earmarked in supplemental budget provisions identified in August 2010.