HIDALGO, Texas — Perched 20 feet above a South Texas cabbage field in a telephone-booth-sized capsule, a National Guardsman passes a moonlit Sunday night with a gun strapped to his hip, peering through heat detector lenses into an adjacent orange grove.
Deployment of 1,200 National Guard soldiers for one year: $110 million.
This same night, farther west on the border, a haunting whistle blasts through the predawn quiet as a mile-long train groans to a heavy stop halfway across a Rio Grande River bridge. In a ritual performed nightly, a Customs and Border Protection agent unlocks a gate, a railroad policeman slides the heavy doors open, and they both wave flashlight beams under, over and in between the loads of cars, electronics and produce, before they pass through an X-ray machine searching for hidden people or drugs.
One rail cargo X-ray screening machine: $1.75 million.
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On this night in southern Arizona, a screener examining tractor-trailer loads of char asks for a closer look. Drug sniffing dogs bark. He finds 8,000 pounds of baled marijuana in several trucks.
Customs and Border Protection officer average annual salary: $75,000. Drug-sniffing dog: $4,500.
As Congress debates border funding and as governors demand more assistance, The Associated Press has investigated what taxpayers spend securing the U.S.-Mexico border.
The price tag, until now, has not been public. But AP, using White House budgets, reports obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests and congressional transcripts, tallied it all up: $90 billion in 10 years.
For taxpayers footing this bill, the returns have been mixed: fewer illegal immigrants but little impact on the terrorism issue, and certainly no stoppage of the drug supply.