Real Walls Prevent Illegal Border Crossings

In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security canceled a project to build a technology-based “virtual fence” across the Southwest border, saying that the effort on which $1 billion had already been spent was ineffective and too costly.  Politicians who funded billions of dollars of “detection technologies” didn’t listen to U.S. Border Patrol, which tried to explain that detection of illegal aliens and smugglers is not the problem along the border but stopping them from crossing is.  Virtual or electronic walls are not deterrents, they are detection capabilities and don’t contribute anything to deterrence.  Real walls are deterrents and are the only thing that really work to deter and prevent illegal border crossings.  

There are long histories that hard fencing initiatives, from the Great Wall of China to T-walls (or Bremer barriers) that protected U.S. troops in Iraq, work and work well.  Hard border strategic fencing initiatives such as Operation Gatekeeper, Operation Hold the Line, and Operation Safeguard deterred or stopped illegal border crossings in the busy border cities of San Ysidro, CA, El Paso, TX, and Nogales, AZ.  The inability to scale walls or puncture steel matting or reinforced fencing pushed northbound alien immigrants and smugglers to the very limits of the “strategic fencing,” into inhospitable, remote, or difficult segments of the border such as mountains, deserts, and rapidly moving riverways.  In the 1990s, wherever “strategic fencing” was employed, deterrence was virtually total.  The vast majority of illegal crossings came from illegal aliens walking to the ends of the miles-long fencing where there was no more deterrence to crossing into the United States.  In these particular border towns, crime associated with transient illegal aliens and smugglers dropped substantially.

High-flying unmanned surveillance aircraft don’t work either.  After ten unmanned systems and $600 million was spent to help secure the southwest border, the unmanned aircraft were transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard.  Moving surveillance cameras from a pole to an aircraft is not deterrence, it is still detection. 

Mexican smugglers, using high-powered rifles with telescopic sights, blasted Boeing’s billion-dollar camera systems to smithereens.  Repair crews dispatched to repair the damaged equipment soon found themselves being shot at by the same people.  The result of a few well-placed bullets was that the virtual wall was effectively unplugged from the grid.  As for the drones, Americans would probably be surprised that the drones didn’t fly every day.  They were an intermittent and inconsistent detection capability.

Walls are a persistent deterrence.  Along the border, cameras on poles or on unmanned aircraft are intermittent detection systems.  The DHS abandoned the cameras on poles strategy. 

Like Boeing’s billion-dollar surveillance systems, the CBP's near-billion-dollar drone program was marketed as an effective means to use technology to help close the gaps through which smugglers move people and drugs across the border.  After a year of drone operations, the program’s measures of effectiveness revealed it cost the American taxpayers, on average, about $32,000 to apprehend a single illegal alien.  In the late 1990s, when Border Patrol airplanes and helicopters patrolled the Rio Grande River, the average cost of apprehending a single illegal alien using a $100K fixed-wing aircraft was $20; the average cost of apprehending a single illegal alien using a $1M helicopter was about $220.  Even state-of-the-art detection capabilities are the wrong solutions for a deterrence problem. 

The “virtual fence” that politicians have touted isn’t a wall or even a fence.  It is a relic of the misguided efforts of uninformed and misguided politicians.  Like other pols, former mayor Rudy Giuliani has long stated (and again, most recently) that a virtual fence is the solution for the border.  He is typical of the politician who thinks he has his fingers on the pulse on the problem, but he is wrong.     

The CBP’s unmanned surveillance aircraft didn’t work either.  Customs and Border Protection leaders cannot say anyone was ever apprehended or stopped by a virtual fence.  All they can say is, “We might have been able to detect them."

I recall when my Sector Chief Patrol Agent (and other Chiefs) visited Israel in the late 1990s to assess the effectiveness of their border walls.  The Israeli border was protected by tall concrete walls with an abundance of concertina, and watchtowers that were similar to but not as imposing or as numerous as the watchtowers at the Supermax prison in Colorado. 

We live in a different time than the one my dear late Border Patrol Chief Paul Berg lived when as a young Border Patrol Agent in the 1970s he patrolled the southwest border in a four-wheel drive truck.  He said that was a time when he could come upon an illegal alien in the field, and all he had to do was just tell him to “get in the truck.”  Paul would stop at McDonalds, drive the Mexican national to the port of entry, and send him back home with a bag of burgers. 

Today’s bands of illegal border crossers are nothing like the aliens of yesteryear.  Today’s illegal border crossers are infiltrated with violent gang members and criminals of all sorts.  One of my grad students (in the early 2000s) was a Border Patrol agent out of the Eagle Pass Station.  He’d come to class in uniform, bulletproof vest, and sidearm.  He would tell stories of being on patrol, being shot at with high-power rifles.  If he was lucky, he would only have the windshield shot out. 

The illegal aliens of today are an aggressive and sometimes a desperate bunch.  They bring diseases and contraband and criminal records with them.  Border Patrol agents on the line and in the field were (and probably still are) exposed to tuberculous with virtually every illegal alien they apprehended.

Congress wasted billions on ineffective virtual fencing strategies and unmanned aircraft systems.  Walls work every place they’ve been tried.  It is impossible to breach the Israeli border wall and those who think they can get over it alive are soon faced with the reality that any effort short of commandeering a tank and blasting through will result in failure.  So why try?  That is the essence of deterrence. 

Walls are the ultimate deterrent. 

Congress needs to fund a wall to protect Americans and their way of life. 

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