Just the Facts

Five Facts on Current Border Security

By No Labels
January 10, 2019 | Blog

Today, President Trump paid a visit to Texas to promote his plan for a border wall—the primary issue preventing he and the Democratic leadership in Congress from re-opening the government. His visit comes after a particularly contentious few days, including the president walking out of a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Now the president is hinting that he will go forward with his threat to declare a national emergency to fund the border wall.

All this begs the question—what exactly is the current state of the U.S.-Mexico border? While the extremes of both sides shout past each other on the issue, the rest of us should take a moment to consider the facts on the ground (literally). Here are five facts on the current state of affairs at the border between the United States and Mexico.

Parts of the U.S. border already have some type of barrier

Of the 1,954-mile-long border, about 650 miles already has various types of fencing through California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Of these miles, 374 employ “pedestrian fencing” in more urbanized areas of the border, using steel bollards, wire mesh, and landing mats; 280 miles of the 650 have vehicle barriers. These barriers of entry, described as fences, walls, and other types of obstacles, result in part from the 2006 Secure Fence Act that called for building up to 700 miles of fencing and increasing the use of technology to help patrol the border.

There is complex technology already being implemented at the U.S. border

The United States is currently utilizing a number of complex technologies to supplement the physical barriers that are already in place—such as drones, which are used to capture images and monitor restricted areas. According to the Department of Homeland Security other border surveillance systems include range finders, thermal imaging devices, radar, ground sensors, and radio frequency sensors. Most recently the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, an agency in the Department of State, has been working to obtain scanners for checkpoints, “in order to efficiently and effectively detect contraband hidden on and inside an individual’s body.”

Geographic terrain also provides natural barriers between the U.S. and Mexico

The southern border contains wetlands, grasslands, rivers, mountains, and forests that house an abundance of wildlife and complex ecosystems. The Rio Grande river itself runs 1,254 miles along the border, providing a natural barrier that is also subject to international agreements. In 1970, the United States and Mexico signed a treaty restricting construction along the Rio Grande and prohibiting disruption of the river’s natural flow. The Jacumba Wilderness area is also a major hinderance—according to the The Washington Post, hundreds of migrants have died trying to cross the area during “scorching summers” and “snow covered winters.” The border even contains the Imperial sand dunes, whose unstable terrain and wind speeds require boarder agents to use ATVs to patrol.

The border also is home to Native American reservations and communities

The Campo Indian Reservation stretches across the Laguna Mountains and is home to about 315 members of the Campo Kumeyaay Nation. The tribal corporation oversees Golden Acorn Casino—and a wind farm with 25 turbines that supplies energy to about 30,000 homes. The Tohono O’odham Nation directly straddles the border between Arizona and Mexico. The Tonoho O’odham Nation is the second largest tribe in the U.S., inhabiting around 2.7 million acres in the Sonoran Desert.

The Border Patrol System has grown extensively in personnel and patrolling in recent decades

From the George W. Bush administration to today, U.S. Customs and Border Protection have increased the number of border patrol agents from 9,000 to 19,000, accompanied by 254 aircraft and 295 marine vessels. Today, anyone wishing to cross the border is subject to linewatch operations, traffic checkpoints, transportation checks, marine patrol, and horse and bike patrol, among others. The U.S. has also aided the Mexican government to help intensify its own enforcement activities along Mexico’s own southern border.

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