Construction is underway, and 83 miles of “new border wall” have been completed so far.
Last Thurs. Nov. 21, Acting United States Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Chad F. Wolf – after being officially confirmed for the position 17 days ago (Nov. 13) – visited a construction site of the border wall in Donna. Escorted to the site by U.S. Customs and Border Protection liaisons, and surrounded by Secret Service agents, Wolf was able to get up close to the structure at the center of controversy or praise, depending on who is asked.
Wolf surveyed the wall, and asked liaisons questions about the land, the area and construction. Following the survey, Wolf and USBP Chief Patrol Agent Rudy Karisch held a press briefing to discuss the current state of the border wall.
“The RGV is ground zero for the security of the humanitarian crisis at the border,” Wolf said. “In fiscal year 2019, the RGV Sector apprehended over 339,000 illegal aliens.”
According to DHS, in fiscal year 2018 the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 162,262 undocumented migrants (who entered or were attempting to enter the country illegally) at the Rio Grande Valley sector of the border.
The total apprehended at the Southwest U.S. Border sectors, which includes Big Bend, Del Rio, El Centro, El Paso, Laredo, Rio Grande Valley, San Diego, Tucson and Yuma, was 396,579 according to statistics from DHS.
“To put that in perspective, this one sector accounted for approximately one-third of the total 1.1 million aliens apprehended across the entire southwest border for FY [Fiscal Year] ‘19,” Wolf said. “I’m here to say things have changed, thanks to the decisive action by the president and the department.”
Wolf added that across the border, enforcement actions have dropped by over 70 percent “since the peak of the crisis in April and May” this year. He said this is due to several initiatives.
“We must secure the border. The U.S. will no longer allow smugglers and drug traffickers to walk across the border unimpeded,” Wolf said. “President Trump has been clear: to do this we will build a wall, and he is following through on his promise.”
Wolf noted that 83 miles of “new border wall” have been completed, and the government is on track to build 450 to 500 miles of new wall by the end of 2020.
According to the DHS website $1.375 billion was provided by U.S. Congress in FY 2018 to go toward 84 miles of the border wall, which have completed or are currently in construction at the Southwest border (focused at the RGV, San Diego, El Centro, Yuma and Tucson Sectors).
“Of that total, 110 total miles will be constructed here in the RGV Sector,” Wolf said. “We have funded and built more wall in the first three years of this administration than the entire eight years of the previous administration.”
Wolf said the wall is not just physical infrastructure, but a “high-tech border wall system” that combines a physical barrier with tactical lighting, fiber-optic technology and real-time surveillance.
“Simply put, walls work,” Wolf said. “We’ve seen this over and over: when we construct a wall, the illegal activity goes down. We saw it in the 1990’s in San Diego, we’re seeing it today in El Paso.”
Wolf said that no one disputes giving the military “the best equipment” to keep them and this country safe, and asked why things should be any different for the men and women of the Border Patrol who are “protecting our homeland.”
“What we’ve heard time and time again from our operators is that we need a wall,” Wolf said. “A new wall system is a game changer for stopping illicit activity, including activity carried out by transnational criminal organizations, or TCOs.”
According to Wolf TCOs exploit the legal immigration system as well, and encourage economic migrants to flood the border and wrongfully seek asylum protections. He said TCOs also send migrants across the border to distract Border Patrol agents, and asked migrants not to pay smugglers or TCOs, because they are selling a lie.
He added there has been “unprecedented” enforcement actions on the Mexican side of the border as well, saying that thousands of Mexican troops have been deployed to stop illegal crossing and enforce border security. Wolf brought up Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) that have “changed the dynamic” on the border. DHS is using the program to end catch and release and mitigate the humanitarian crisis at the border.
According to DHS, MPP is in place so certain individuals who entered the country illegally may be taken to Mexico to wait outside of the U.S. for the duration of their immigration hearings.
The Mexican government is also providing “shelter, clothing, food and security protections” to migrants under MPP. The International Organization of Migration will provide transportation for those who are not from Mexico but wish to return home.
Wolf said keeping migrants safe is a goal everyone shares, and said the country is working with international partners to ensure migrants are returned as close to their home as possible.
“We continue to see month-to-month declines in border apprehensions,” Wolf said. “Our mission is clear, our strategy is working. Together, we will secure the border, and we will secure our homeland.”
This article originally appeared in the Friday Nov. 29, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.