As President Donald Trump begins the work of transforming his “Build That Wall” campaign chant into reality, he won’t be facing a blank canvas. The United States has a hodgepodge of barriers along the Mexican border totaling some 650 miles. They include pedestrian fencing, vehicle barriers, and double-layered steel fencing with enough space for border agents in vehicles to patrol.
On the campaign trail, Trump frequently spoke of a “big, beautiful wall,” but experts contend that the final product likely will not be one solid wall stretching hundreds of miles. Trump himself said in a “60 Minutes” interview shortly after the election that fencing would be appropriate in certain areas.
Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, said officials already have started the process of determining which barriers need to be strengthened, which need to be replaced, and where new construction on currently virgin territory needs to take place.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” he said. “We already have fencing. We’ve been through this before.”
Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, said barriers are not feasible or necessary in remote areas, mountainous regions, and parts of the border where water separates the countries.
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“It’s not going to be a coast-to-coast wall or fencing, even,” she said.
The San Diego Experience
In planning the massive construction project, the experience in San Diego might prove instructive. At one time, the 66-mile section of the border extending east from the Pacific Ocean was the most popular entry point for illegal immigrants from Mexico. Migrants freely crossed from a region of more than 2 million people in Tijuana, Tecate, and surrounding areas.
In 1993, America completed the first 14 miles of fencing. The 10-foot-high fence was made from surplus Army steel landing mat used to make landing strips during the Vietnam War. Later, the United States added a secondary fence behind the first barrier. The two-piece barrier angles toward the south to make it more difficult to scale.
The results were stunning. In fiscal year 1992, border patrol agents had apprehended 202,173 people at the border agency’s Imperial Beach Station in San Diego and 158,952 at the Chula Vista Station about 12 miles east. A Congressional Research Service report indicates that by fiscal year 2004, apprehensions dropped to 9,122 at Imperial Beach and 9,923 in Chula Vista. Those were declines of 95 percent and 94 percent, respectively. In the rest of the San Diego Sector, apprehensions dropped from 204,456 to 119,293 over that time period.
Those regions also experienced a marked drop in crime, while crime declines in the more rural sections of the border lagged behind the national average, according to the congressional report.
“I’ve seen how effective [fencing] is in California and west Texas,” Vaughan said.
Yet for all of its success in blocking illegal immigrants from entering San Diego, there is ample evidence that the fencing simply pushed migrants to more vulnerable sections of the border. The total number of apprehensions along the southwest border in fiscal year 2004 was about 1.2 million, nearly identical to the figure in fiscal year 1992.
During that time, the U.S. Border Patrol’s busiest stations switched from San Diego to Tucson and Yuma in Arizona. Another consequence of shutting down border crossings in urban areas is that illegal immigration across the desert became more dangerous. Migrant deaths shot up from an average of 200 a year in the early 1990s to 472 in 2005.
Experts: Border Control Must Be Comprehensive
To experts, the lesson is clear: Immigration enforcement has to be comprehensive. Physical barriers are of limited utility without enough agents to police the border and detention space to hold those apprehended. Trump’s plan also accounts for those things.
“What works in Brownsville isn’t necessarily going to work in San Diego,” said Chris Cabrera, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council. “Whatever we have, you’re going to need technology to with it, as well … It can’t stand alone. You need to back it up. You need manpower.”
Cabrera said physical barriers tend to work best in urban areas. That is why the San Diego fencing was so effective, he added.
“It was more of a funnel system,” he said. “We wanted to push people from more populated areas to more rural areas where it’s easier to apprehend them.”
Over the rest of the nearly 2,000-mile border, the United States has a variety of barriers. Some sections have permanent vehicle barriers — steel posts or bollards driven five feet into the ground and encased on concrete. They are designed to stop migrants from driving across the border in rural areas.
Other spots have temporary barriers — welded metal, like railroad track, telephone polls, or piping that can be moved by forklift.
In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News Channel last week, Trump derided the “little toy walls” that currently exist. Judd, president of the border patrol union, agreed upgrades are need, although he added that he does not know which barriers can be improved and which ones should simply be bulldozed and replaced completely.
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Cabrera said the most effective strategy in some spots is “virtual offenses” that rely on sensors to track border crossers.
“There’s particularly going to be a focus on replacing fencing that is absolutely in atrocious condition,” Judd said.
Trump has indicated a desire to move fast, beginning construction in a matter of months. Judd and Cabrera agreed that is a doable goal.
“Government is only as slow as we let it,” Cabrera said. “He [is] from a business background, which is different from a government background.”
In keeping with the Biden Rule, which states that “ … action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over, ” I have stood firm on the principle that the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. I consistently maintained that the next president would fill this vacancy. I held to that view even when nearly everyone thought the president would be Hillary Clinton.
Our friends on the left may lack the same consistency on this topic—the principle we’ve followed, after all, is not only known as the Biden Rule but also the Schumer Standard—but there is one thing from which we can expect the left not to waver: trying to paint whomever is actually nominated in apocalyptic terms.
Doesn’t matter who this Republican president nominates. Doesn’t matter who any Republican president nominates—really. The left has been rolling out the same, tired playbook for decades.
I’m serious—that’s what they said about Stevens. And Souter. And Kennedy.
We can expect to hear a lot of end times rhetoric from the left again today. In fact, we already have. The same groups on the left who always seem to say the sky is falling when a Republican president puts forward a Supreme Court nominee are saying it’s falling again. Only this time, they’re saying it before we even have a nominee.
President Donald Trump has a list of about 20 Americans who he is considering nominating to the Supreme Court. These men and women have different professional backgrounds and different life experiences. Some have distinguished themselves in state courts, others have distinguished themselves in federal court. Some are appellate court judges, others are trial court judges. Some passed the Senate without a single negative vote against their nomination. Others passed the Senate without requiring a roll call vote at all on their nomination.
The bipartisan support, the years of judicial experience, the impressive credentials—none of these appear to matter to some on the left. They say things like, “We are prepared to oppose every name on the list.” That’s right, Mr. President. Every single name on the list.
Even more troubling, some Senate Democrats are saying the same thing. My friend from New York said it was hard for him “to imagine a nominee” from Trump whom Senate Democrats “could support.” We don’t even have one yet.
I hope we can all skip past that and get down to our serious work. The election is now behind us. The president has been working to make his decision on a nominee, and we expect him to announce that decision tomorrow (UPDATE: Tonight).
The Senate should respect the result of the election and treat this newly elected president’s nominee in the same way the nominees of other newly elected presidents have been treated—and that is with careful consideration followed by an up-or-down vote.
We had two nominations in the first term of President Bill Clinton. Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer both got up-or-down votes. There was no filibuster. We had two nominations in the first term of President Barack Obama: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. No filibuster. First-term presidents have received up-or-down votes.
We have every right to expect the same courtesy from today’s minority when we receive this nomination.