SAN DIEGO – Phase one of President Trump’s proposed border wall is complete.
Now comes the testing of the prototypes for their breach-ability — how long does it take someone to cut through, dig under or vault over the 30-foot-high structures.
“The thing I am most impressed by is the scale,” said Customs and Border Protection Acting Commissioner Ron Vitiello. “A lot of things have to happen now - testing, evaluation, estimates, appropriation. We will do it all as quickly and safely as we can to give as much security to the homelands as we can.”
He stressed the agency is not looking at a 2,000-mile wall across the border, as some critics still claim. Rather, portions of the wall will be erected where it is most efficient and topographically possible based on need and the ability to attain ‘operation control’, a term that first surfaced during the presidency of George W Bush.
Operational control is roughly defined as the ability to detect and follow anyone who crosses the border illegally, with a likelihood of capture.
The US-Mexican border is roughly 2,000-miles long. About 350 miles feature a fence capable of stopping or slowing down most pedestrians. Another 350 miles of barrier can only stop vehicles. The remaining portions of the border are either defined by the Rio Grande river, barb wire or no fence at all.
“The wall or fencing is one piece that is critical to border security, but it is not the answer itself,” said retired San Diego Border Patrol Sector Chief Rick Barlow. “One lesson we have learned over time here is the moment you put up a fence in one area, the areas you don’t have fencing instantly become open to vulnerability.”
San Diego has 46 miles of single fencing and 14 miles of double fencing, the kind the border patrol prefers, enabling agents to drive along the two fences and apprehend those who get over the first fence but are slowed down by the second.
“I have 32 years as a Border Patrol agent, in San Diego, Arizona and Texas,” says San Diego Division Chief Mario Villarreal.
“Every place I have worked we constructed a physical barrier on the border and every place we have erected tactical infrastructure, apprehensions have gone down.”
In 1986, San Diego peaked with 638,370 apprehensions. After completing a border fence, along with sensors, cameras and more manpower, apprehensions fell dramatically, to 31,891 last fiscal year.
But border agents fully expect human smugglers and drug cartels will test any new wall the agency erects, which is why the Department of Homeland Security will spend the next 30 to 60 days testing and evaluating the ability of the prototypes to withstand multiple tests involving hydraulic jacks, concrete saws, ramming vehicles, grappling hooks and ladders.
“They come across with everything,” Barlow said. “One person will come over with an ax, another with a Sawzall. They will hack a hole big enough for one person to get through. They will come with shovels to dig rat holes under the fence and ladders to latch on to the fence to get up and over.”
Four of the new prototypes are made with concrete, a new material for the Border Patrol. Four others are made with metal, concrete and other materials. All of them there 30 feet high and six-feet deep to prevent burrowing.
Vitiello said the agency is working as quickly as it can.
“We are doing everything we can to meet the mandate of operational control at the border and the president’s direction for a wall at the southern border.”
The acting commissioner stressed the agency may ultimately select more than one design or chose features from one or another and deploy the final design based on need, terrain and topography. How many miles are actually built is dependent on how much money Congress appropriates.