Homeland Security Committee Approves Sinema Bill Strengthening Border Security by Cracking Down on Smugglers’ Use of Drones

May 31, 2023

Senator’s bipartisan legislation requires federal strategy to combat unauthorized drones along the border

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved Arizona senior Senator Kyrsten Sinema’s Protecting the Border from Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act – bipartisan legislation she introduced with Republican Senator James Lankford (Okla.) that enhances border security by combating smugglers’ use of drones along Arizona’s border.
“Dangerous smugglers use unauthorized drones to traffic drugs, avoid law enforcement, and harm Arizona families. Our legislation – which passed the committee with strong bipartisan support – ensures a unified strategy to crack down on unauthorized drones and better secure our border,” said Sinema, Chair of the Border Management Subcommittee.
As Chair of the Border Management Subcommittee, Sinema has been leading bipartisan trips to Arizona to allow colleagues from non-border states to see what Arizona border communities experience every day in the interest of delivering lasting solutions to the ongoing crisis.
The bipartisan Protecting the Border from Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act requires the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, Justice, and Defense, along with the Federal Aviation Administration, to develop an interagency strategy to combat unauthorized drones along the border. This strategy includes assessments of the federal government’s counter-unmanned aircraft system capabilities, privacy protections, intelligence tools, training programs, resources, and research efforts along the border. The bill also includes important provisions to increase transparency regarding drone-related threats along the border, encourage more robust interagency research and development efforts, and ensure the federal government protects the privacy and civil liberties of Arizonans lawfully operating drones.
Although most drone operators are hobbyists, along the border, cartels can use the same technology to transport drugs. Drones can also be used to surveil the Border Patrol to avoid detection when illegally crossing the border.
Last year, a single sector of the border in Texas saw more than 10,000 illegal drone encounters. In November 2021, Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents caught a drone smuggling 6.5 pounds of heroin across the border; according to reporting, it was the third drone captured smuggling drugs that year in Yuma. The need for interagency counter-drone coordination along the border was also highlighted by an incident where, according to news reports, the Border Patrol encountered a highly-modified drone within the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base’s restricted airspace near Tucson.