Border Crossing: There's an App for That

Critics call the app terrorism by technology

A San Diego research team is close to releasing a smart phone application to help illegal immigrants navigate safely across the border.

Critics of the Transborder Immigrant tool are outraged, though.

After it's downloaded into Motorola phones equipped with GPS, it's a humanitarian tool designed to save lives, according to the application's creators at UCSD.

"It's really just designed for you to turn it on, and the compass would show you where is the nearest safety site -- be that Border Patrol or highway or water -- in case you're in extreme emergency," co-creator Micha Cardenas said.

Critics, including the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, are outraged and think the app's creators should be arrested.

The technology is nothing new, according to the Border Patrol, whose agents are prepared to counter the application with their own technology, including ground sensors. However, the Border Patrol said, phones with this new application are a potential threat.

"If they fall into the wrong people's hands -- be it terrorists or gang members or people that are here to harm our country -- they can also use this technology,"  Border Patrol agent Julius Alatorre said. "So while the intent may be good, in the wrong hands, it could turn out to be a bad thing."

Cardenas insists the application poses no threat to national security but does call it "electronic civil disobedience" and an art project, even.

"When it tells you where there's water, it also gives you, like, a few lines of poetry to like welcome you to the U.S.," Cardenas said.

The researchers hope to finish testing the application in the desert areas along the border and put it to use as soon as possible. Cardenas said the UCSD team is working with immigrants rights advocates and religious groups to distribute the phones in Mexico sometime next year.

So far, they have received at least some of the funding for the $30 phones from the Transborder Humanities Institute at UCSD.

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