Is There 100 Miles of New Border Wall, or Not?

It doesn't make much difference — keep building

By Andrew R. Arthur on January 14, 2020

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf spoke at an event in Yuma, Ariz., last Friday to commemorate the completion of 100 miles of a new system of border walls along the southwest border. Is all of that wall actually "new"? Well, yes and no, but it doesn't really make a lot of difference, because it is a necessary improvement.

As for the confusion, here is an excerpt from CNN:

Yet of the 100 miles, few are areas where there was previously no wall. In Yuma, Arizona, where Wolf's news conference took place, run-down barriers were replaced with an enhanced system.

"One thing I want to emphasize is that every inch of the 100 miles that we have constructed is new border wall system," he added. "It's not so-called replacement wall, as some of our critics claimed. It is new wall."

Those two paragraphs float in the middle of the article, without any explanation or clarification as to the apparent discrepancy. ABC News casts a bit more light:

Customs and Border Protection [CBP] has referred to the new wall system as "replacements," but Wolf insisted on Friday that all 100 miles should be considered "new wall systems" because access roads, surveillance and lighting were also built along with the barriers.

That is a fairly significant improvement, for anyone who has traveled to the southwest border to take a look at the various barriers that have previously been erected between the United States and Mexico (as I have). In my February 4, 2019, post "Know Your Fences", I went into detail, with photographs, of the various barriers along the border in the Yuma Border Patrol Sector, where Wolf spoke.

It is clear from those photographs that there were portions of the border wall that were downright decrepit. This is not to suggest that the barriers should be spotless, but many were "walls" in name only, likely to deter the most casual illicit cross-border traffic, but not enough to stop the drug cartels that do their business in the area.

Replacing 90 miles of those old barriers (which CNN reports CBP had done by December 6), is an achievement in and of itself. Surplus Vietnam-era landing-mat fencing is better than nothing, but it is not as good as 30-foot-tall steel bollard walls.

As I have previously testified, border barriers do not stop illegal entry of drugs, migrants, and other contraband per se. Rather, they serve as impediments to slow that traffic long enough for the Border Patrol to respond to incursions. Lights serve as a deterrent where they are used and also allow Border Patrol agents to locate crossers in the dark. Surveillance equipment allows Border Patrol to identify where incursions are happening. Access roads enable agents to quickly respond.

Perhaps the El Paso County officials who recently sued the administration (unsuccessfully) in an attempt to block wall construction should talk to Yuma Mayor Douglas Nicholls, who was quoted in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) press release on the January 10 event:

"The wall is a critical component in border security measures for Yuma's border region for the safety of our community, for proficient border crossing operations, and for economic stability. ... An efficiently operated, safe southern border region is pivotal to the economy as a whole, inclusive of Yuma's $3 billion agriculture industry. We experienced a dramatic reduction in incursions when the 2006 wall was constructed, which decreased illegal crossings by 95%. Fourteen years later with changes in immigration patterns, we need to keep safety and efficiency a mainstay."

All politics is local, but local politics is really local, as Mayor Nicholls' statements reflect. El Paso likely has some advantages over Yuma as it relates to the costs of illegal cross-border activity (as I have previously explained), but the flood of migrants through the Yuma sector in May 2019 put a huge burden on the town, forcing Mayor Nicholls to declare a state of emergency.

Wolf asserted that he was confident that DHS could complete, or begin construction on, 400 to 450 miles of fencing by the end of 2020, which would require the department to triple its efforts thus far. Given the lawsuits and pushback from Congress that the administration has had to fight just to get to this point, this is an ambitious agenda, but a worthwhile one. As he explained:

The new border wall system is an undeniable impediment to human smugglers, drug traffickers, and other criminals who have exploited our lack of effective border infrastructure to smuggle drugs, people and illegal contraband into our country.

Given the stakes, DHS should celebrate its milestone, and keep building.

Topics: Border Wall