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House approves $600 million for border: How will it be spent?

About half the money in the House plan goes toward 1,500 new border personnel. Not in the plan: money for any border fences. President Obama could sign a version of the bill in September.

A Border Patrol agent is reflected in the mirror as he and another agent patrol near the U.S.-Mexico border in Nogales, Ariz., July 27. The House approved some $600 billion in border-security funding, about half of which will go toward new personnel.

Jae C. Hong/AP

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Just what does $600 million buy for border security these days – and is it more money the US needs to help tackle illegal immigration?

Half of the funds approved Tuesday by the US House after weeks of political back-and-forth will pay for 1,500 new border agents. Another chunk – nearly $200 million – goes to the Justice Department-supported efforts of the US Marshals and other law enforcement agencies. Two surveillance drones ring up another $32 million.

The payout the House authorized Tuesday is an answer to President Obama's request that more be done to help secure the southern border, but it also represents a shift in strategy – a return to more traditional security techniques for the border.

IN PICTURES: The scene at the US/Mexico border

In March, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano froze funding for a "virtual fence" begun under President Bush in 2006. The string of towers was intended to catch illegal border-crossers using cameras, radar, and ground sensors, but it was "plagued with cost overruns and missed deadlines," Secretary Napolitano said. The program had burned through some $2.4 billion between 2005 and 2009.

Border patrol officials expressed frustration at the technology, and wished for more personnel. “We already detect more traffic of illegals than we can apprehend, so we feel the money is better spent putting more boots on the ground than in looking at more technology," National Border Patrol Council president T.J. Bonner told the Monitor in March.

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