By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
Despite managing to secure $1.4 billion from a federal spending bill and an additional $3.8 billion dollars in funding diverted from the U.S. military, President Donald Trump’s border wall is still running into obstacles. Almost 100 miles of wall has been built during Trump’s tenure, but almost all of it has been replacement fencing. Now, there are several indicators that even the sturdier replacement sections and – potentially new sections – are vulnerable to both nature and human ingenuity.
According to the Washington Post, both replacement and new wall sections will probably require the installation of hundreds of storm gates to prevent flash floods from undermining or knocking the sections over. Because of torrential downpours that occur during monsoon season in the desert, the storm gates must be left open for months every summer. As can be expected, these openings, which are unmanned in remote areas, have already allowed for the entry of drug smugglers and migrants into the United States.
The creation of these gates is largely a result of historical flooding disasters related to fence damage. They’re not new, having been implemented after a 2008 monsoon that caused a huge pile up of debris along the Arizona border. Despite these gates being installed, in the summer of 2011, heavy monsoon rains tore through a forty-foot stretch of fence near Organ Pipe National Monument, washing the fence away.
Building A Wall ‘Unattainable’
According to Texas Monthly, two months after the devastating 2008 Arizona floods, CBP engineers quietly concluded that building a wall in Starr County, Texas, was too dangerous. “Mitigating the impacts of flooding from the U.S. side of the border is unattainable,” wrote a CBP contractor in a September 2008 document. But in the decade since that 2008 report, CBP has persisted in trying to build a border wall through Starr County anyway. Twelve of the 100 projected miles of new border wall the White House has forecasted will run through Starr County, and would be a bollard style of construction – exactly the type of fencing that accumulates debris during flooding.
Other sections of existing border fence have already been knocked over due to Mother Nature. On Jan. 29, Mexicali police confirmed with KYMA News 11 that a portion of the new border wall fell on the Mexico side of the border, landing on several trees. Customs and Border Patrol Agent Carlos Pitones of the El Centro, California, sector told CNN that the sections that gave way had recently been set in a new concrete foundation in Calexico, California. The concrete had not yet cured, according to Pitones, and the wall panels were unable to withstand the windy conditions.
Across the border from El Paso, Texas, smugglers in Cuidad Juárez have engineered camouflage hook-and-ladders made of rebar that blend in so well with the border wall, they can be hard to detect, according to U.S. Border Patrol. According to the El Paso Times, the ladders appear to be made with two poles of 3/8-inch rebar and four thinner poles, outfitted with steps and bent over at the end in a U, to hook on the top of the wall. This type of rebar can be found on a construction site all across Mexico and is very inexpensive. Estimates for building one of these hooked rebar ladders is as low as $5.30.
The demographic of migrants crossing the border illegally from Mexico into the United States has shifted once more, this time from Central Americans back to Mexican nationals. It’s no coincidence that Border Patrol agents have been finding these rebar ladders in large numbers across the border from El Paso since May 2019, or that the number of single male Mexican migrants being apprehended in the sector in the El Paso sector has doubled year after year.
Smugglers and Migrants
While smugglers and migrants are finding ways to climb over the fence, Mexican drug cartels are still finding ways to tunnel under the border wall. In August 2019, members of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force discovered a record breaker – a border tunnel measuring a total of 4,309 feet. According to KYMA News 11, the tunnel is about 5 ½ feet tall and two feet wide, and it runs about 70 feet beneath the ground. It includes an extensive rail/cart system, forced air ventilation, and high-voltage electrical cables and panels. It also had an elevator at its entrance and a complex drainage system.
Despite obtaining several billion dollars in additional funding for border wall construction, the design and actual groundbreaking still takes time. While President Trump has promised the construction of 100 miles of brand-new wall by the end of 2020, the uncertainties inherent to an election year, in combination with the challenges of building an effective border wall, call to question how much improvement in border security new border fencing sections will realistically provide.