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CBP removes controversial border surveillance blimp from Nogales

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NOGALES, Ariz. (KVOA) - U.S. Customs and Border Protection has removed its aerostat blimp from Nogales this week.

The blimp-like tool was used for 24 hour surveillance along the Nogales border with Mexico. 

The eye in the sky became controversial as some people like Santa Cruz County Sheriff David Hathaway felt it was an intrusion of people's privacy. Hathaway feared that the feds were spying on innocent residents of his county.

"To me it was a symbol of the growing police state we have in this country. We had an occasion, where Border Patrol offered to track someone within the U.S. that was being pursued by local law enforcement so I know the cameras are actually directed in to the U.S.," Sheriff Hathaway said.

CBP is giving few details about why the aerostat was removed. CBP sent News 4 Tucson the following statement:

"On January 1, 2023, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began reducing the number of Tactical Aerostats deployed along the southwest border. Although the number of aerostats will be reduced, CBP continues to leverage surveillance technology and explore new/emerging technology to increase persistent surveillance of the border region. Currently, CBP’s U.S. Border Patrol has successfully deployed 195 Autonomous Surveillance Towers (AST) with more than 80 additional planned for deployment, 256 Remote Video Surveillance System – Upgrades (RVSS-U), and 75 RVSS Legacy sensor towers will be upgraded in fiscal year 2023."

On Friday, only News 4 Tucson's cameras were rolling as crews worked to remove the final remnants of the aerostat from its perch atop a hillside in East Nogales off of Highway 82.

Not everyone is happy to see it go. Eddie Murreta works across the street from where the aerostat was located, he doesn't understand why CBP would remove it so soon. He believes such surveillance tools along the border are important.

 “Why take it down after they went through all the trouble of building it and setting it up and launching it. I see it as a waste of tax payers money," he said.

It is unclear what the total costs were to operate and now remove the aerostat. 

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