By Sylvia Longmire
Columnist, In Homeland Security
Expanding the fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border has been a hallmark of the Trump administration since the early days of the president’s campaign. The current border fence covers approximately 653 miles of border length in various sections, and most of the San Diego sector’s 60 miles of it is fenced. Despite the additional miles of secondary fence in the sector, President Trump said on May 9 he would proceed with plans to augment border fencing in San Diego at the request of county officials. However, hours later, a San Diego County spokesman told KPBS that the county has not made any such request.
Specifically, according to Reuters, Trump said to reporters at the White House on May 9, “San Diego has asked us to go forward with their section of the wall in California and rather than not doing that and letting them lobby for us with Governor Brown we decided to do it.” Then San Diego County spokesman Michael Workman told KPBS, “This county has taken no action with regard to the wall.” In response to questions about the County’s statement, a White House official told KPBS on background that the president might have been referring to some San Diego area residents.
Cross-Barrier Visual Situational Awareness
On April 1, President Trump signed a $1.6 billion omnibus bill that allocated funding to various infrastructure projects, a mixture of replacement and new fencing, along the southwest border. Of that sum, $251 million was allocated to San Diego County to replace 14 miles of secondary fencing, steel mesh topped in some places with razor wire that runs, with some gaps, from Border Field State Park to Trump’s border wall prototypes in Otay Mesa. Per the San Diego Union-Tribune, the new secondary fence must provide “cross-barrier visual situational awareness,” which, for agents, generally means that they want to be able to see through the barrier to know if anyone is coming. Only the San Diego fencing project has this requirement explicitly laid out in the legislation.
A Look at the Apprehension Numbers
San Diego’s double fencing has made a huge impact on the Border Patrol’s ability to apprehend people who attempt illegal border crosses. A 2006 Congressional Research Service analysis of the southern border found that the San Diego fence, combined with an increase in agents and other resources in the Border Patrol’s San Diego sector, proved effective in reducing the number of apprehensions made in that sector. However, increased fencing tended to push migrants and smugglers east. Over a 12-year period from 1992 to 2004, apprehensions in the San Diego sector declined by 76 percent, while apprehensions in the Yuma sector in Arizona increased by 591 percent – and this was well before the secondary fence was installed in 2011.
Border: ‘Walls Work’
However, Ronald Vitiello, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) acting deputy commissioner, said after the omnibus bill signing, “It does not fully fund our needs in the most critical locations.” Despite some CBP agents claiming additional fencing wasn’t necessary, Vitiello said, “The truth is walls work, and the data show it and agents know it.” A previously-funded project in San Diego will replace 14 miles of primary fencing — the fence closer to Mexico made of Vietnam war landing mats that went up in the 90s — along the same stretch as the project to replace secondary fencing, per the Union-Tribune. The new primary fence will be similar to the existing bollard fence, or posts set close together, which agents prefer because they can see through it—and ironically converts the primary fence section from a wall to a fence, by definition.