Just the Facts

Five Facts on How the U.S.-Mexico Border is Secured

By Emma Petasis
January 28, 2019 | Blog

Here are five facts on how the U.S.-Mexico border is secured:

Currently, 654 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border is secured by some form of barrier.

America’s southern border is 1,954 land miles, meaning that approximately 33% of the border has some sort of fencing along it. However, only 354 miles of the current fencing is designed to prevent pedestrians from crossing; the other 300 miles consists of low-lying posts erected to stop cars and trucks. Furthermore, much of the fence designed to stop pedestrians is outdated and easily breached. A 2017 study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that older portions of the fence were breached at a rate of 82 times per fence mile, while the newer portions, which are generally made using 18-foot steel bollards, are breached at a rate of 14 times per fence mile. However, the report also noted that even the new wall can be climbed in seconds by a relatively athletic person and that ladders were able to easily reach over the wall as well.

The first iteration of the current barriers along the southern border was authorized in 1994 by President Bill Clinton.

In an effort to control the San Diego-Tijuana border, the busiest land crossing in the world, President Clinton launched “Operation Gatekeeper” in October 1994 with the intention of deterring illegal immigrants. Overall, the construction of the wall, which was accompanied by a rollout of a defined national strategic plan, was very successful in curbing immigration, reducing the flow of illegal immigrants into San Diego by 75% over the next several years. More than a decade later, in 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, which called for the construction of approximately 700 miles of barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Geographic terrain also serves as a natural barrier throughout large portions of the U.S.-Mexico border.

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 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.

In addition to barriers, agents utilize complex technology to secure the border. 

Border Patrol agents currently employ 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.”

Today, there are 48 legal points of entry on the U.S.-Mexico border for cars and pedestrians and another 10 for rail or ferry.  

Fox News reports that a million people legally cross the southern border in both directions each day. The news organization also cites that more than 4,000 commercial trucks and $1.4 billion in legal goods and services enter through these pathways daily. In addition, these points of entry account for the vast majority of drug seizures at the border. Throughout the first 11 months of FY 2018, agents stationed at legal entry points seized 90% of the heroin, 88% of the cocaine, and 87% of the methamphetamine being illegally smuggled over the border.

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