The Sacramento Bee reported last week on a group of 16 migrants who had entered the United States in a stolen Dodge utility truck after smugglers cut through a section of the old border wall near Campo, Calif. Although they were ultimately apprehended by the Border Patrol, the story illustrates why upgrades on border barriers are desperately needed, and why Congress must fund them.
Among the 16 were 14 Mexican nationals (nine men and five women between the ages of 15 and 53) and two Guatemalan nationals (a 28-year-old male and a 29-year-old female). The vehicle was overloaded, meaning that the group could have been injured or killed in a rollover on the rugged terrain, which fortunately did not occur.
Incredibly, that entry occurred in broad daylight, at 3:45 PM on November 20 after (as noted) a portion of the wall, which was made up of old Vietnam-era landing mats, was breached. Border Patrol became aware of the incursion and responded to a man with a truck matching the description of the vehicle cutting a lock at a nearby private gate. Agents attempted to apprehend the group, but the driver sped off. The 16 eventually abandoned the vehicle and attempted to flee on foot before the Border Patrol arrested them all.
I described those old landing-mat walls in a February 2019 post captioned "Know Your Fences: An on the ground perspective". From the pictures in that post, you can see the difference between those old, easily breached barriers and more modern steel and bollard fencing. In spots on either side of the border, it appeared as if the rusted landing-mat walls could have been pushed over, with enough effort. The more modern steel and bollard fences would have required either a significant amount of digging, or hours of work with an arc welder, to breach.
Digging under the fence (in places where there were no concrete footers) would allow individuals to pass under (with some effort), but not drive-throughs like the one near Campo. In addition, the effort to dig under those fences gives our under-resourced Border Patrol agents time to respond, which is what happened when a group of 376 migrants tried to enter the United States in the desert east of San Luis, Ariz., in January 2019.
While the Campo incident involved illegal migrants, that Dodge utility truck could have easily been loaded instead with illegal drugs or other contraband. Mexico is the primary source for the heroin consumed in the United States, and a major producer of illegal methamphetamine and fentanyl as well. Mexican drug cartels also move South American cocaine into this country. American pushers and users want it, Mexican smugglers have it, and the only question is how to get it over the border.
Going through the ports of entry with those narcotics is a risky business — U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has sophisticated detection equipment (and some well-trained dogs) at the ports, and the smugglers would face not just the loss of their illegal load, but also years in federal prison.
Cutting through easily breached barriers and absconding into the United States with illegal cargo makes sense from a business standpoint (and the cartels are the consummate businessmen). Which is why the U.S. government needs to replace the old fence.
That is the reason that the secretary of Homeland Security asked the Department of Defense (DOD) in February for assistance "with the construction of fences[,] roads, and lighting" within 11 specified project areas "to block drug-smuggling corridors across the international boundary between the United States and Mexico," as I explained in an August 2019 post. Although Campo appears to be west of the construction project that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requested of DOD in the El Centro Border Patrol Sector near Calexico, Calif., none of this should be an issue. Congress has approved the construction of border barriers in the past, and there is no reason why it should not approve upgrades to the decrepit and ineffective walls that "secure" the border today.
The Campo incident should be a wake-up call to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Unfortunately, I expect them to hit the snooze button.