Published on Crooks & Liars on 3/3/2017.
Most Americans have no knowledge of what our southern border with Mexico looks like. They’ve never lived here nor have they visited. The majority of Americans, especially those who voted for Trump, have based their opinions in regards to border issues and immigration solely on the lies being fed to them by this administration. Trump’s border wall is simply a political ruse.
I personally worked on the border day and night for six years. After completing the Border Patrol academy, I was assigned in November of 1995 to Campo Station located in the mountains just east of San Diego. Upon first glance, I was shocked to discover that our station didn’t even have a building. We had one double wide trailer and one old garage with an asbestos ceiling that had been converted into a processing center. That meant it had a long table, six or so folding chairs and two jail cells that were nothing more than some chain link fencing with a lock on the door. Only the three supervisors and the Patrol Agent In Charge of the station had a computer. Agents either hand wrote the I-213’s that allowed us to immediately return the Mexican immigrants to Mexico, or we had to use a typewriter to fill out formal deportation and other criminal paperwork.
My field equipment consisted of an awesome pair of binoculars, one pair of handcuffs, a baton, a .357 revolver that carried six bullets, a radio that didn’t work most of the time because we were in the mountains and a lifted 4×4 Bronco. We worked alone, sometimes one agent for a good twenty or so square miles. Many nights we left the station on foot because we didn’t have enough gas to fill our trucks. We were used to being on foot anyhow as that is how we worked; sign cutting, tracking, footprints through the mountains until we caught whatever it was we were following. Sometimes it was drugs, sometimes a group of underage girls being smuggled for sex work or the occasional group from China or Peru. But most of the time, it was families coming here to look for work. Any work would do.
Campo did not have a fence when I started working there. We never had to sit for an entire shift and stare at that God awful obstruction like the agents in town had to. And for that, we were thankful. But it wasn’t very long before it made it’s way up to Tecate, CA which is where our western border with the next station started. It would take years to get through our entire assigned area, to our eastern border with Boulevard, CA.
In the beginning, it seemed like a logical concept. There’s a border here and the only thing designating it as such was four strings of barbed wire that ran the line through our whole territory. As a young agent, I was in favor of such a wall. I had yet to develop my liberal streak and distaste for the work I was doing. But I knew even then that the Army Corps of Engineers would not be able to build the metal wall completely across our area. Campo was known for it’s high mountain peaks and rocky terrain. Sometimes the border fell directly on a giant boulder, sometimes it traveled through a deep crevasse that traveled north and south and would carry water during heavy rains. There is even a railroad tunnel that travels north and south. The border is actually half way through the creepy tunnel. But at the very least, it seemed as though it would help us narrow down the spots were people could cross illegally. Back in the mid to late 90’s, they were crossing by the hundreds every night. Our border was porous then, and we simply had to do the best we could with what we had.
It was President Clinton that began hiring agents as fast as possible. He was also responsible for the fence being funded and built. This is the same fence you see now. And though it made life more difficult for the smugglers, it only slowed them down and made our lives more dangerous. It took them years to finish. It took smugglers only days to figure out how to get around it.
Sometimes they would cross right across the top of it assuming we would not be looking for foot sign there. Other times they’d cross the fence in the most predictable places; places that the fence couldn’t cross. Those groups tended to be used to draw us away from the other traffic that was crossing. It was a brilliant and easy plan: cross where the agents always look, tie us up on those groups and smuggle drugs in another area. By the time we would figure out the game, they’d moved on to another.
Often tunnels were dug to get under the fence. Some opened up into warehouses in San Diego. Some in Campo popped up in the farm or ranch houses that existed along the border. I’ve seen smugglers take blow torches to the fence and cut a huge hole in it. I’ve even witnessed a truck with a car carrier frame on it, pull up to the fence on the Mexican side, lower a ramp over to the U.S. side. Then a truck would just ride the car carrier up and over. This was generally done by the drug smugglers. The vehicle would then sped off through the winding border dirt roads. Rule of thumb was that once you discovered their tactic, you could bet that they’d been doing it a long time and that they would then move on to something else.
From an agent’s point of view, the worst part of the fence was that we could not see the other side. I’ve seen in other areas of the southern border where there is a more vertical fence style with thin gaps allowing agents to see to the south. In Campo, the fence was solid metal with no openings save the areas where the terrain dictated it. This was extremely dangerous. When people ask me what was the scariest, hair raising thing I did while I was in the Border Patrol, my answer is always working the fence.
We would have to drive the border road, along the fence, continually looking for crossings. If I was driving east, this meant my vehicle was right up against the fence and I was looking north along the road. Since we worked alone, I could not watch to see if someone was hanging over the top to throw rocks or shoot at me and look for foot traffic at the same time. If I was traveling west, I was facing the fence. Sign cutting from a vehicle required me to hang my head slightly out the open window, thus fully exposing me.
I was rocked numerous times. I had a small dog thrown at me. Another time it was a human head that hit the hood of my truck. I watched in shock as the spine that was still attached broke away from the head after landing. I was even shot at multiple times from the Mexican side. And no, we were not allowed to shoot back into Mexico.
That fence was a hazard to every agent and Trump’s wall will be worse.
Agents lives will unnecessarily be placed in danger. Smugglers will simply build a taller ladder, dig underneath it or cross where there is no wall because of the terrain. As soon as they finish one stretch and move on, it will be knocked down by the smugglers. You would have to have millions of Border Patrol agents to be able to keep a visual on the entire line. That’s how rough the terrain is. If Trump thinks he can build a wall through these tunnels and rivers, he is sorely mistaken. It is not possible without causing floods or blowing up boulders. That tunnel I mentioned would have to be torn down. Trump’s wall is simply not a realistic solution. It is merely a repeat of what has already been done.
Additionally, Trump lied in regards to how porous the border is now. Currently there is a loss of immigrants. There has been since the economy collapsed. Less jobs here and a better economy in Mexico allowed many immigrants to return home.
Trump has also refused to admit that the majority of immigrants are hard working, law abiding people. He has further told his supporters that undocumented workers are using the system when in fact many pay taxes through an IRS taxpayer ID system. This was set up so that they could pay taxes in the event an amnesty came around. If the government is willing to take their money, they should be willing to work with them on a more sympathetic level.
So why would he lie about the need for a wall?
Because the Trump wall is just another political ploy for votes. Anger gets people to vote, and he is a racist, xenophobe like many of his followers. Immigrant bashing is just another red meat issue for them to get worked up over and something they know very little about. This was a plan from day one, from the moment he announced his candidacy. It was classic authoritarian dogma: refer to undocumented Mexicans as rapists, drug dealers and murders, claim they are everywhere in the U.S. just waiting to assault you and your family, waiting to take your jobs, then your homes and anything else they can. Undocumented Mexican workers are his scapegoat. It only took a little ignorance on the part of most Americans who do not know any Mexican families, anything about the border nor a thing about immigration.
And for what it’s worth, I was never afraid of the Mexican immigrants I came across at three in the morning on the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. I was afraid of that fence. And though I could not in good conscience continue with the Border Patrol, I do feel we need to protect the border. Just not in a Stalin-esque way. I also do not believe in labeling an entire race of people as criminals and deporting those who’ve been working here for years.
A real immigration plan would involve supporting the existing systems, amnesty and citizenship for those who have been working and living here and have no criminal histories, a worker visa program for businesses that need the labor and actual punishments for businesses that hire undocumented workers.
Another wall is just a political scam and waste of taxpayer money.