Perry never noticed the drones

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry presumably knows a little something about immigration policy. After all, he’s the three-term governor of Texas, easily the nation’s largest border state, and Perry realizes how important the issue is to far-right activists who dominate in his party.

With this in mind, it seemed noteworthy that Perry sketched out an idea this week, touting the use of Predator drones along the U.S.-Mexico border. The governor stressed that these unarmed drones could provide “real-time information to help our law-enforcement,” and if federal officials would commit to the idea, “we will be able to drive the drug cartels away from our border.”

This sounds pretty reasonable, right? As it turns out, the Obama administration agrees — as Nathan Pippenger explained, the idea Perry recommends was already put in place years ago.

If you’re an average voter (and not, say, the governor of Texas), you could be forgiven for not knowing the details of our current southwest border surveillance efforts, which include 250 towers with daytime and nighttime cameras, 38 truck-mounted infrared cameras and radar systems, 130 planes and helicopters, and, yes, a fleet of unmanned aircraft systems. The only possible charitable interpretation here is that by “drones,” Perry specifically meant autonomous unmanned aircraft, not remotely-controlled unmanned aircraft (“drone” technically refers only to the former, though it’s generally used to refer to both). It doesn’t sound like Perry was making that distinction, and in any case, it’s unimportant, because this is already policy. It is not, in any way, a new idea.

In fact, The New York Times reported on the use of unmanned aircraft at the border almost two years ago. And it’s been over six months since DHS Secretary Napolitano gave a major speech announcing that Customs and Border Protection had Predators covering the entire southwest border, from the El Centro sector of California all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. She even gave the speech in El Paso! This shouldn’t be news to the governor of a massive border state.

It’s not like Perry can claim he’s new to the job and didn’t realize these efforts were underway — drones have been used along Texas’ border for six years, utilized by the Bush and Obama administrations, and Perry has been governor the entire time.

In other words, he’s touting an idea that was implemented years ago, which he should have known was implemented years ago, since it’s occurring in Perry’s own state.

If pressed, I suspect that Perry, like Bush, would say he’s not especially interested in the details of public policy, and prefers to be more of an “idea man.” Remind me again, how’d that work out for us between 2001 and 2009?