Cell Phone App Guides Illegal Immigrants Safely Across Border

Critics call the app terrorism by technology

Two professors working on a controversial cell phone tool that could help guide illegal immigrants safely across the border say they want to deploy the devices as soon as next summer, the North County Times reported.

Hundreds die each year attempting to cross the border illegally. University of California, San Diego professor Ricardo Dominguez and his partner in the project said they hope to give people cell phones they can use in an emergency to prevent deaths.

After it's downloaded into Motorola phones equipped with GPS, it's a humanitarian tool designed to save lives, said 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," said co-creator Micha Cardenas.

"Our goal: distribution and use by summer," Dominguez told the newspaper.

But technical and logistical hurdles remain, the professors say.

They have to identify safe locations where people can go for help, said UC San Diego professor Brett Stalbaum, who also is working on the project. They have to make the cell phone tool easy to use for people who do not speak English, and they have to work with others to teach people how to use the device.

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,"  said 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.

Cardenas said the UCSD team is working with immigrants' rights advocates and religious groups to distribute the phones in Mexico.

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