Security facts about the border wall

In 2004 I heard that a border wall — for some time named the border “fence” by CBP — was going soon to be constructed. From 2004 until 2011 I documented, in a second book published by a university press (The Fence: National Security, Public Safety, and Illegal Immigration along the U.S.-Mexico Border) the legislation and the on the ground construction of the border wall between Brownsville, Texas, and San Diego. In this study, as with the first, I relied on extensive interviews with agents, an analysis of government documents including Congressional testimony, interviews with local, state, and national politicians, in addition to interviews with the private sector, border residents, and a variety of other individuals rarely heard. Among other topics, I examined the many challenges to building a “virtual” wall, the so-called Secure Border Initiative network (SBInet).

The firstthing to know is that there is already a border wall in place, that it is approximately 650 miles long, and that it was built at strategic sites from Brownsville, Texas, to San Diego, California. Decisions on where to place the wall were, according to the Border Patrol, determined by a number of factors including the statistical frequency of illegal crossings, the accessibility to towns, cities, and public transportation systems, and topography. In many places along our Mexican border rugged mountains and deserts form a geographical barrier that is very difficult to penetrate. In these areas a concrete-and-steel wall is not necessary and, at the same time, may be next to impossible to build.

Second, the completed concrete-and-steel border wall between our ports of entry is only one part of a much larger security system designed to make it very difficult to cross from Mexico into the United States. This border security system currently in place includes the 650 mile concrete and steel wall, a wall in some places as high as twenty-five feet. But there is much more to this security system than the border wall.

Much of this security system is, in fact, invisible to those who visit our southern border or even to border residents. It includes an elaborate array of secondary fences, vehicle barriers, night-time lighting, ground sensors, sophisticated surveillance cameras, tethered balloons, horse patrols, CBP patrols in a variety of specialized all-terrain vehicles, drones, helicopters, planes, fixed surveillance and communication towers, intelligence facilities, and a number of other classified security surveillance systems. Moreover, new and improved surveillance technologies are planned, including relevant CBP data intelligence collection. CBP is just one of the agencies under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland gathering and analyzing data on transnational organized crime (TOC).

Third, the number of agents in the field has dramatically increased since prior to 9/11. It is no longer the case, as it once was, that an individual agent is left alone to monitor his or her section of the border. Now there are two agents instead of one; additionally large numbers of agents may be temporarily shifted to problematic border sectors as circumstances require.

This entire security system of concrete and electronic barriers supported by the CBP, the largest federal law enforcement agency in our country, legally extends 100 miles into the interior of the United States. As such, it includes both fixed and portable Border Patrol checkpoints.

It is very important to remember that the border wall itself was always intended to be just one component of this much larger and complex security system designed to protect our southern border. While any one component may possibly be evaded, a redundant security system is far superior to a reliance on a single component. Even if that component, for instance a huge wall, at first may sound imposing and almost impossible to circumscribe. It isn’t.

Fourth, building a wall 40 to 50 feet in height or taller, even if engineers thought it was feasible and could be shown to be cost effective will not, as suggested, keep those motivated to enter this country from accomplishing their objective. For example, those with unlimited resources like the TOC can usually evade one or more of the components of our border security system. In the case of a static wall, regardless of its height and heft, tunnels can be dug under it, drones carrying drugs can fly over it, and other locations along our extensive northern border and expansive coastlines can be quickly turned into points of illegal entry. With virtually unlimited capital, the drug cartels are constantly trying to develop innovative to avoid interdiction.

Exceptionally fit individuals such as those seen on Youtube can climb over our existing border wall in a matter of seconds. But climbing over the existing border wall is more a stunt than a demonstration of how easy it is to gain permanent entry into our country. Just think about the extensive security system these same individuals must overcome in order to reach a major American city. Think about the 100 mile security zone in place. That’s why the next decision most of these border wall climbers make is very reasonable…they immediately climb back into Mexico before they are apprehended.

Fifth, CBP leadership repeatedly has stated that, with the exception of perhaps adding a limited number of additional agents, the present border wall and security system is working better and better each year. Remember, the majority of the estimated eleven million undocumented workers presently living in the United States who actually crossed the Mexican border to get here, did so before the present border wall and complex security system were in place. It is, in fact, much more difficult to cross our southern border than at anytime in our previous history.

There are certainly many other facts about the border wall and the border security system vital for all American voters to know about. Are our border wall and security systems perfect? No. But they are constantly being tweaked and improved by the CBP and it is becoming much harder than it ever has been to enter this country illegally along our southern border.

These are five basic facts about our border wall and the security system of which it is a part. I urge all Americans to continue to learn more about our border wall and our entire border security system in this region. Regardless of who becomes our next president and what political party holds a majority vote in the House and the Senate as well as state legislatures, these facts about our border wall and border security matter, and will continue to matter, long after this election day.

Robert Lee Maril, a professor of Sociology at East Carolina University, is the author of The Fence: National Security, Public Safety, and Illegal Immigration along the U.S.-Mexico Border. He blogs at