The National Border Patrol Council has high hopes for President-elect Trump’s border security policies.
The union’s president, Brandon Judd, has been advising the Trump transition team. The union has encouraged the building of a border wall and changing enforcement policies put in place in the past four years.
San Diego-based Shawn Moran, vice president of the union, said a wall on the border would be a “vital tool,” and it’s difficult to say exactly where along the border a wall is needed.
“The problem arises when you secure one area, you push traffic to another,” Moran said, citing a Border Patrol program called Operation Gatekeeper that blocked entry to much of the San Diego area.
“We didn’t think they would go through the mountains. We didn’t think they would go through the deserts. But they did,” Moran said. “The smugglers really didn’t seem to care.”
He did not know specifics about what kind of material the wall might be built out of or how tall it might be.
Many immigrant rights advocates, like the Southern Border Communities Coalition, have spoken out against such a wall.
“Border communities are safe, thriving, and contribute to the economic and cultural fabric of the United States,” said Christian Ramirez, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition. “Misguided proposals that seek to militarize border communities by deploying more federal agents and building walls do not contribute to improving the quality of life for the more than 15 million people that call the borderlands home.”
The San Diego area has about 60 miles of border, according to James Nielsen, a San Diego sector Border Patrol agent and spokesman. About 46 miles has fencing and about 13 miles has two sets of fences.
The older fencing is made out of excess landing mat material from the Vietnam War. Newer fencing involves steel, poured concrete, and, in some places, layers of razor wire.
Nielsen said that in 2015, San Diego agents had to make more than 550 repairs to the fences.
Moran said the old landing mat fencing was effective in stopping cars driving across the border, but not for people.
“When it comes to people, we’ve found that if you build a 20-foot fence, they build a 21-foot ladder,” Moran said. “They’re going over it, or the cartels are digging under it.”
The wall on its own would not be enough, Moran said, but it could be effective when paired with an ease in restrictions on Border Patrol agents’ actions.
He said former deputy commissioner David Aguilar made a policy that border agents could not operate at public transit hubs unless they had specific intelligence that smuggling activity or criminal activity was taking place there. Aguilar designated several such spaces for restricted enforcement, such as schools and hospitals, in a 2013 memo.
Moran said the union wants to get rid of the priority enforcement program — or the policy of focusing enforcement of immigration laws on those with criminal records or those caught crossing the border.
“Right now we basically have to catch them jumping the border fence or coming out of the river,” Moran said. “Our position has been that we can’t be that restrained. Obviously we want to go after the violent criminals first, but you shouldn’t be protected if you’re here breaking the law.”
He also said that the U.S. government doesn’t prosecute enough of the assaults on Border Patrol agents.
“We average one major assault every day of the year nationwide,” Moran said. “Our agents think they’re viewed as expendable.”
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