Border Evolution: Smugglers get past barriers using drones and tunnels

YUMA, Ariz. –  “Trust me, they’re gonna pay for the wall folks, they’re gonna pay for the wall,” said Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, assuring a crowd that Mexico will pay for a border wall with the U.S. A claim we’ve been hearing throughout the campaign. Various sources including CNN estimate Trump’s border plan to cost upwards of $10 billion. But not to worry, because Mexico’s paying right? Former Mexican President Vicente Fox said,”I declare, I am not going to pay for that [expletive] wall. He should pay for it!”

In 2004 Yuma Sector Border Patrol agents saw a dramatic surge in illegal entries. This provoked federal officials to fund something close to a wall. In Yuma county, not just one, but up to three border fences back to back were built by 2008.

Richard Withers with the Yuma Sector Border Patrol said, “Pre 2007, this border wall didn’t exist. So people were free to drive or walk across without any problems.”

At Yuma’s border, 126 miles of land was vulnerable until the construction. In 2005 Border Patrol reported 138,460 illegal entries. After the fence, that number dropped to 7,142 in 2015. a 95 percent improvement. Although the border fencing has stopped illegal migrants from walking or driving across, smugglers have taken to the skies, and of course underground. This fiscal year alone, three drug tunnels were found at the California border. And most recently one in San Luis in 2012. Plus last November, a more advanced, new trend. Drugs falling from the sky. A drone delivered 30 pounds of marijuana.

“So the wall isn’t necessarily stopping smugglers from coming through? It’s just creating a challenge that they have to get more innovative to get across it seems,” asked Reporter Ella Sogomonian.
“It’s definitely slowing them down and allowing the opportunity for us to respond much faster,” responded Withers.
But agents don’t attribute the success rate solely to the barrier. They say boots on the ground along with technology like sensors and thermal surveillance help the battle.
“Technology and infrastructure is wonderful and it works great but it all boils down to the boots on the ground. The men and women in the field because without them the infrastructure and the technology is useless,” said Withers.
In a previous interview with Former Presidential Candidate Republican John Mccain, he agreed innovation in technology would be a more viable solution.
“It’s mainly technology we now have developed, towers that can specifically surveil long stretches of the border,” said Mccain, “We need to be able to surveil the entire border so that not someone in a hot car in 118 degree heat next to a fence. But someone sitting back in an air conditioned place watching all the border and when they see someone trying to penetrate or groups of people then they can send out swat teams and intercept them.”
An evolution, rather than relying on outdated methods of fortressing using brick and mortar walls.
“Evolution of smuggling methods,” said Withers. “From walking across, driving across, now they’re using tunnels, ultralight aircraft drones, grappling hooks, ladders all kinds of different methods.”
Sogomonian asked, “And does it make a difference if the wall is even higher than it is at this point, would it pose a greater challenge for them to come across?”
Withers responded,”They’re definitely greater challenges but no matter the height of the fence I mean if you’re gonna build a 15 foot fence they’re going to use a 15 foot ladder.”
In all, a 661 mile fence was constructed across California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. A 2009 government accountability report revealed 1 mile averaged up to $3.9 million. But as Yuma BP agents point out, it’s a matter of keeping up, using manpower and modern gadgets that stop illegal crossing at the U.S. – Mexico border.
“And it’s a cat and mouse game where it’s our technology versus their technology. And it’s always going to be like that,” said Withers.

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