Exclusive: Border Surveillance Shows Vulnerability of Fencing
Pickup trucks caught on tape breaching existing barriers lend credence to case for wall
As President Donald Trump fleshes out his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, surveillance videos obtained by LifeZette offer a sobering lesson on the limitation of fences.
The videos, captured by an unmanned U.S. Customs and Border Protection camera in Douglas, Arizona, in November, show pickup trucks emerging from the other side of a fence that separates the border. The breach happens quickly, in a matter of seconds; the vehicles appear to slip right through the barrier.
“They’re very, very difficult to detect. Fences can be defeated.”
In reality, smugglers took advantage of cuts they made in the metal structure.
LifeZette obtained the border surveillance videos from a source who asked not to be identified. View them below. Keep your eyes on the fence.
Critics of Trump’s plan argue that a wall would be costly, ineffective — and redundant; after all, the border already features hundreds of miles of fences and other barriers.
But Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said it is a constant battle for border officers to keep on top of smugglers who cut their way through fencing. One tactic, he said, is to cut a rectangle large enough to fit a vehicle and attach it to hinges so that it can open and close like a gate.
Smugglers then use spray paint to camouflage the breach.
“They’re very, very difficult to detect,” he said. “Fences can be defeated.”
Judd said that is why, while fencing works well at some points on the border, a more imposing structure might be necessary at other locations. A full-fledged wall would be harder to thwart, he said.
CNN and Reuters both reported this month that a draft report prepared by the Department of Homeland Security projects that 1,250 miles of walls and fences would take more than three years to build and cost as much as $21.6 billion. The draft calls for three phases:
- The first 26 miles would be near San Diego, California; El Paso, Texas; and the Rio Grande Valley.
- The second phases covers 151 miles in and around the Rio Grande Valley; Laredo, Texas; Tucson, Arizona; and Big Bend, Texas.
- The final phase would take up an additional 1,080 miles.
According to CNN, a second option under consideration calls for upgrading significant portions of the 654 miles of existing barriers and adding about 177 miles of new fences.
That would significantly reduce the costs, to about $5 billion.
Judd said he has had some input in the planning but that high-level supervisors would make the final decisions.
“This is all very preliminary,” he said. “This is all them gathering information.”
Trump himself has made contradictory statements about the barrier. At times, he has insisted it would be a tall, concrete wall. But shortly after his election, he told “60 Minutes” that fencing would be appropriate in certain areas.
According to a Government Accountability Report released last week, the government spent about $2.4 billion between fiscals years 2007 and 2015 to erect fencing, gates, roads, bridges, lighting and draining along the border. Between FY 2013 and FY 2015, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials recorded 2.1 million illegal entries along the border.
“However, CBP has not developed metrics that systematically use these, among other data it collects, to assess the contributions of border fencing to its mission,” the report states. “For example, CBP could potentially use these data to determine the extent to which border fencing diverts illegal entrants into more rural and remote environments, and border fencing’s impact, if any, on apprehension rates over time.”
Any Help Appreciated
Border Patrol officers, who endorsed Trump, said they would welcome any additional help in securing the southwest boundary.
“Even if it’s a mile and a half of fence, it would be better, because it’s needed,” said Chris Cabrera, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council Local 3307. “It’s a matter of where.”
Cabrera said terrain will dictate some of the details.
“In some areas that are super sandy, you can’t put in concrete,” he said. “It will cave in.”
Other places might have both a wall and a fence, Cabrera said. He said that essentially exists in McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. The border there looks a 3-foot-high chain-link fence when viewed from the north but a 15-foot concrete wall when seen from the south — a structure built into the levy.
A third option, Cabrera said, is a “virtual wall” with drones and sensors.
Physical barriers represent “another tool in the tool chest,” he said. Even in places with sturdy fences, he said, agents have to stay vigilant.
“You will see guys with a 20-foot ladder hiding in the brush,” he said. “But he’s a little easier to spot” than if he was not carrying a ladder.
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the debate over whether the border needs a wall or a fence is partially an argument over semantics. She said she believes Trump’s supporters are not heavily invested in the terms.
“If they decide that that’s the best solution, I don’t think that’s important at all,” she said. “I don’t think people care whether it’s a wall or a fence or a screen. Whatever works.”