President Trump wants a wall and it is going to be beautiful, a beautiful wall. He made a promise to the American people to secure the southern border of the U.S. from terrorists, undocumented aliens, and drug smuggling. And he believes a big tall wall is the way to do that.
Trouble is Customs and Border Protection don’t want a wall. Over the past 15 years, they built a sophisticated high-tech security and surveillance system along almost the entire border, from Brownsville to San Diego.
They call it the “border fence.” And this fence is no out-dated slab of concrete, which can be flown over, dug under and bypassed in dozens of ways. The current border fence is an advanced system of security, surveillance and capture. It incorporates a multi-layered system of physical barriers, cameras, radar, drones, seismic sensors, and human deployment; supported by advanced training and intelligence systems. Contrary to statements made by Trump, the border security system is extremely difficult to penetrate.
After 9/11, officials in Washington became much more serious about border security. Over the next fifteen years, the stretch of border from Brownsville, TX to San Diego, CA was enhanced and beefed up using a combination of barriers and smart technology. It has been years in the making, but at this point the barrier is for the most part complete, though improvements are always under way.
Camera surveillance is one of the biggest boosts to effectiveness and interdiction. High resolution video cameras are deployed in a number of ways, including on drones. But among the most effective are those mounted on Integrated Fixed Towers, IFTs. The IFTs support a variety of cameras, including infrared and radar systems. The cameras spot activity on the border and enable the Border Patrol Agents to determine exactly who has been spotted and what they are doing.
Over the past 15 years, Customs and Border Protection have built a sophisticated, high-tech security and surveillance system along almost the entire border.
This is particularly important to agents, because in the past, with radar only, they were forced to investigate what might be a breach, without any detailed knowledge of what was happening on the ground. They had no way of knowing if the target they were approaching was a lost group of hikers, or armed and dangerous drug smugglers. The cameras provide situational awareness immediately, they can see individuals, and even identify them if they are in their database, and capture the license plates on vehicles. This allows the agents to plan and approach with appropriate force.
The ability to “see” and identify people and vehicles crossing the border is more practical than creating a physical barrier. In fact, CBP believes one of the biggest disadvantages with the wall that Trump has proposed is that it would cut off border agents ability to see what is going on. They need to see across the border to monitor it. If they can’t see to the other side, they can’t stop people from destroying the wall or digging underneath it. (This is why walls like the Great Wall of China or castle fortifications have walkways for soldiers on top of the wall, to protect it and monitor activity. Hiding behind a wall is a dangerous position.)
CBP doesn’t want a huge, opaque wall that blocks their view. And, as they point out, a multi-layered approach, with redundancy built into the system, is far more robust than any single-minded strategy. A wall is an obvious barrier, that is easily defeated. Drugs can be flown over the wall with drones, or tunnels can go underneath. Organized crime will find many ways around the wall, no matter how tall it is.
With the system that is in place now, traffickers may find it easy to evade detection of one or two surveillance systems, but it is almost impossible to avoid all of the layers. Smugglers or drug traffickers, may find it easy to exploit a hole in a chain link fence, but the surveillance cameras allow agents to observe them doing so and apprehend them with the appropriate use of force and manpower. It isn’t a perfect system, but it is surprisingly advanced, robust, and effective. Undocumented aliens may still enter the U.S., but these days it is almost impossible to make a run across the border.
A concrete wall for border security is simply an outdated idea. The CBP moved past that primitive solution over a decade ago.