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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"For the Yuma sector, the numbers are telling us that the wall has had a dramatic effect," says Ken Rosevear, president of the Yuma Chamber of Commerce. "But we all know that once you shut down a pipeline in one area it merely diverts the traffic to somewhere else."Skip to next paragraph
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In this case, the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation and Saguaro National Monument to the east are seeing a rise in foot traffic, he says.
Also of concern is the increase in border violence by drug and human smugglers, who seem to be more desperate now that one of their primary entry routes has been choked off. Two months ago, a border patrol agent was intentionally run over and killed in the Algadones Dunes area, in the Yuma sector, where thousands of off-road vehicles have provided cover for smugglers moving illegal migrants north in SUVs.
Assaults on agents and rock-throwing at border patrol vehicles have gone up, says senior agent Derek Hernandez, who has been patrolling the Yuma sector for the past three years.
He points to his white SUV patrol car, which has been ribbed with a kind of metal exoskeleton that folds down to protect the windshield and windows. He then reaches into the car to demonstrate what is becoming more agents' weapon of choice - an air gun that fires tear-gas-filled pellets.
Local resistance to the fence
Yuma is the US border patrol's success story of the moment. But a very small percentage of the fencing will look like Yuma's, says Mr. Easterling.
Why can't the DHS extend triple-layer fencing the entire length of the US border?
The reasons include cost and the engineering problems associated with rocky, mountainous terrain, and other natural obstructions. The urban Yuma sector is perfectly flat, able to host a wide corridor of fences.
"The terrain along the southern border of the United States with Mexico is so diverse and mountainous, that we don't need to build the same kind of fences to halt migration there," says Bernacke, who has previously served in the mountainous Wellton section of Yuma.
Such a wall is not necessary in rural areas, many claim. In border cities, illegal migrants are just a few hundred feet from transportation to take them farther north. But migrants who try to cross rural areas have miles and miles of open terrain to cross, not to mention rivers and gorges and other natural obstructions.
Farther east of Yuma and San Luis, there are other issues that some say make triple-layer walls impractical. Environmentalists say that various types of fencing affect the migratory patterns of wildlife, including important endangered species. They can block river flow and lead to fragmentation of habitat. Some environmental groups have challenged in court the border fences being built in conservation areas.
"We are concerned that fencing will isolate populations of wildlife on either side of the border – everything from common species like mule deer and coyotes to endangered species like jaguar and the cactus ferruginous pygmy owl," says Matt Clark, southwestern representative of Defenders of Wildlife.