Where U.S.-Mexico border fence is tall, border crossings fall
In Yuma, Ariz., border patrol agents tout the success of a high
triple-and double-layered wall. But such a fence is unlikely to stretch the
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To his right stands a steel wall, 20 feet high and reinforced by cement-filled steel piping. To his left another tall fence of steel mesh. Ten yards beyond, a shorter cyclone fence is topped with jagged concertina wire. Visible to the north, through the gauze of fencing are the homes and businesses of this growing Southwest suburbia of 22,000 people.
"This wall works," says Mr. Bernacke. "A lot of people have the misconception that it is a waste of time and money, but the numbers of apprehensions show that it works."
The law instructed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to secure about one-third of the 1,950-mile border between US and Mexico with 700 miles of double-layered fencing – and additionally through cameras, motion sensors, and other types of barriers – by the end of the year to stem illegal immigration.
Bankrolled by a separate $1.2 billion homeland security bill, the Secure Fence Act would, President Bush said in 2006, "make our borders more secure." By most recent estimates, nearly half a million unauthorized immigrants cross the border each year.
On the ground, though, things have turned out differently.
The DHS scaled back its ambitions early on, trimming its end-of-2008 target down to 300 miles of vehicle barrier and 370 miles of pedestrian barrier.
Just $200 million will have been spent by June, according to Lloyd Easterling, the border patrol public information officer.
Only a fraction of the new barriers resemble anything like the images of formidable fencing – the Berlin Wall or the bleak monolith that divides Israel and the West Bank – envisioned by the initial proposal. Most of the new fencing is not a double wall, but a combination of regular vehicle blocks and pedestrian barriers that range from metal mesh and chain link to traditional picket fences.
And partly because of resistance from local landowners, the December deadline would be tough to meet, US government auditors have warned.
Yuma's formidable fence
In Yuma, at least, the fence seems to be preventing illegal border-crossings.
Bernacke, the patrol agent, says that since the triple fence was finished in October, there has been a 72 percent decline in illegal migrant apprehensions in the 120-mile swath of the US-Mexican border known as the Yuma sector. Eight hundred people used to be apprehended trying to cross the border here every day. Now, agents catch 50 people or fewer daily.
The 1.5-mile strip of triple fencing that cuts through suburban San Luis is the most impenetrable, says Bernacke.
That's because the three walls are separated here by a 75-yard "no man's land" – a flat, sandy corridor punctuated by pole-topped lighting, cameras, radio systems, and radar units, where unauthorized migrants can be chased down by border agents.