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Border Fence: Incomplete,

Slightly Effective Patchwork

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For All Of The Political And Social Talk Over The Past Decade Or So About A Commitment To Border Fencing, Prospects For New Construction Seem Dim


By Jonathon Shacat
Modern Times Magazine

June 14, 2013 — The U.S. government has constructed hundreds of miles of fencing along the southern border, including all types of barriers and walls.

Some people feel that this fencing is not enough to prevent illegal entry from Mexico. But U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials assert that it is simply one of the many ways to help secure the border.

Smugglers regularly cross the border in the desert through Cochise County, transporting drugs and other contraband. Also, coyotes help people illegally immigrate to seek jobs in the United States.

Along the U.S.-Mexico border, there are 355 miles of fencing, including eight miles of chain link, 200 miles of mesh/post, 72 miles of (old) mat, and 75 miles of steel beams. The total length of the U.S.-Mexico border is about 1,900 miles.

“These estimates of fencing are based on aerial surveys basically completed in late 2009 and updated in 2011 for the area from El Paso to San Diego by aerial survey and El Paso to Brownsville using satellite images from Google,” said Glenn Spencer, president of the non-governmental border watch group called American Border Patrol based in Hereford.

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 called for 700 miles of double-layered fencing. However, the Department of Homeland Security built only 283 miles of fence. And, only 34 miles were double-layered, including 4.5 miles in Douglas, half a mile in Naco, 19 miles at Yuma, and 10 miles at San Diego, said Spencer.

Many people still cross the border illegally, despite the fence, according to ranchers and landowners along the U.S.-Mexico border in Cochise County.

Richard Hodges, who owns a ranch near Bisbee Junction, which is east of Naco, said large groups of people, including kids and old ladies, used to easily cross through the barbed wire border fence along his property. After the construction of a 16-foot-tall steel beam fence there in 2008, the number of crossers decreased dramatically. Today, only the young and agile can get over it, but he still sees small groups crossing on a consistent basis.

“I suspect most of them are in the drug business,” he said.

And, John Ladd, whose family owns a large ranch west of Naco, sees groups of two to six people crossing on almost a daily basis, with more activity at night. At times, entire vehicles even manage to get through. The border fence along his property is 10 feet tall or 13 feet tall, depending on the location, but it is made of a much lower quality metal mesh material.

He has observed evidence of a total of 15 incidents in which smugglers used gas-powered chop saws to cut openings in the fencing, and then drove a total of 31 trucks (presumably loaded with drugs) across the border on his property between February of 2012 and May of this year.

According to a statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, fencing at the Arizona/Sonora border is only one component of effective border security. The ability to detect, identify, respond, and resolve threats through the use of applied technology, increased personnel and additional infrastructure is how the Tucson Sector Border Patrol improves its overall operational effectiveness.

“As improvements in infrastructure have occurred within the Tucson Sector, to include improved fencing, significant strides have also been made in deterring illegal crossings. A decade ago there were large groups of aliens crossing; 616,346 apprehensions were made in 2000 in the Tucson Sector. Last year, 120,000 apprehensions were made — a clear indication of our success in deterring illegal crossings.

“While no fence is 100 percent effective in keeping all traffic out, it does provide greater tactical advantage by giving agents time to detect and respond to traffic. It also contributes to a decrease in assaults on agents. This infrastructure, along with the technology utilized and the proper deployment of manpower allows us to manage our resources with greater flexibility, safety and effectiveness,” according to a statement by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Ladd said he does not support any additional fence construction because the U.S. Border Patrol is not using the existing fencing to help control the flow of people. He thinks there need to be more agents actually monitoring the border.

Spencer claims evidence is very strong that, when fencing is properly installed, the apprehension of illegal aliens drops significantly. This was true in San Diego, Yuma and El Paso, and that one of the biggest problems on the border today is the stretch of land between Nogales and Yuma, he said.

From a point four miles west of Nogales and for the next 150 miles west, there is only 12 miles of fence — or personnel barriers. The rest of the border is protected using vehicle barriers that people can step over or walk through.

More specifically, Spencer said, DHS should build a double-layered fence along that section of the border stretching from 30 miles west of Lukeville to four miles east of Sasabe. This 115-mile stretch of fence would block off the most intense area of illegal immigration and drug smuggling in the U.S. today.

“A simple back-of-the-envelope calculation would show that the cost of chasing people across 30,000 square miles of desert using 43 different aircraft is extremely expensive — and ineffective — and that a fence would cut illegal crossers by more than 90 percent,” he said. “This is really border security for dummies.”

Spencer, who is also the founder and president of a company called Border Technology, has developed something that could help secure the border. The Sonic Barrier, which is made under the name IDENTISEIS, picks up seismic vibrations on the ground. It could be used by U.S. Border Patrol/Customs and Border Protection officials to detect illegal border crossers, he said.

“For those who don’t like fences, IDENTISEIS, coupled with the use of small drones, would prove once and for all if a fence is really needed,” he added.

According to Spencer, a major Department of Defense contractor has been studying the IDENTISEIS system for more than a year and is now engaged in preparing an internal “white paper” on it. Spencer said he can’t reveal the name of the contractor, but expects some important news from it in the next 60 days. He said he recently received the following statement from the contractor in an email:

“Bottom line up front: We are going to tell the story that you have something totally unique in the sensor world; it detects and could be used for multiple environments. That it is a ‘one of a kind’ that fits a whole bunch of niches in the security world that is right now not being filled. That with further testing looks promising to be able to integrate with our legacy programs, and it seems to provide a lower cost for major end items, installation labor and life cycle sustainment support than most sensor technologies,” Spencer said the email from the defense contractor said.

A demonstration of a primitive version of the Sonic Barrier was given to a group of Arizona legislators on Dec. 28, 2010, in Senate Caucus Room No. 1. Attending the demonstration were senators Russell Pearce, Al Melvin, Gail Griffin and Andy Biggs, and Rep. John Kavanaugh, according to Spencer.

Since that date the system has undergone about 110 tests, and it has been under continuous power. Last October, the system was on display at a trade show in El Paso where live demonstrations were given, including a demonstration for members of the U.S. Border Patrol, according to Spencer.

Jonathan Shacat is a freelance writer for Modern Times Magazine. He can be reached at
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