Fixing The Border Is A Non-Stop Job

Fixing the Border Is a Nonstop Job

Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, August 8, 2007

El Paso, Texas (AP) — Every day, Eddie Lujan and fellow members of his Border Patrol welding team go out and fix holes cut in a 12-mile border fence the night before by illegal immigrants sneaking across from Mexico.

Then he and the others get up the next day and do it all over again.

“It's disheartening,” said Lujan, a Border Patrol agent. “It's frustrating.”

Given the never-ending task faced by Lujan and others like him, some wonder how the U.S. government will ever manage to maintain the fence it wants to build along a large portion of the 2,100-mile border.

“There isn't going to be anything that is cut-proof,” said El Paso Sector Chief Patrol Agent Victor M. Manjarrez Jr.

Congress has authorized $1.2 billion for about 700 miles of fencing, including about 330 miles of a so-called virtual fence a network of cameras, high-tech sensors, radar and other technology. The remaining 370 miles, primarily in more urban areas, are expected to have an actual, two-layer fence.

Salvador Zamora, assistant Border Patrol agent in charge of the El Paso station, said no amount of vigilance including constantly wandering patrol agents, pole-mounted cameras trained on the border and underground sensors is going to prevent someone from taking a pair of bolt cutters to the fence.

“If it's made by man, it's going to be tampered and overcome by man,” he said.

In fact, Manjarrez said the proposed border fence would not reduce the number of agents needed it would increase it. Agents will have to watch for the people who almost certainly will try to climb or squeeze over, under, through or around it, and someone will have to repair the damage, he said.

“A fence in itself, we can't walk away and just say, `Well, that's it,'” Manjarrez said.

In the El Paso area, patrol agents every night draw up a list of holes they find in the chain-link fence, either when they see someone wriggling through, or when footprints are discovered leading from the fence toward El Paso.

Lujan's crew, consisting of two Border Patrol agents and two National Guard engineers, then goes out and repairs them, patching perhaps 15 to 20 holes a day.

On a recent day, Lujan and fellow agent Andrew Avile found a large cut that was deliberately made along a steel pole so that it could not easily be seen. Avile noticed it when the fence gave way as he pushed on it.

And for every cut, Lujan said, three to five people are probably making their way across the levee road, into a nearby canal and onto a highway, eventually reaching a neighborhood, “and then it's like looking for a needle in a haystack after that.”

The goal is to use the fence to slow illegal immigrants down just long enough for an agent to spot them, Zamora said.

Manjarrez began his Border Patrol career in San Diego, where agents have been assigned to drive along the border in a pickup truck loaded with dirt to fill holes dug under the fence. In the Tucson, Ariz., sector, where Manjarrez was last stationed, a contractor has been hired to have welders on call to patch holes.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, who voted for the expanded fence, said it could make a difference in urban areas. But building a fence that requires daily maintenance in the middle of the open desert, where agents are responsible for large swaths of territory, “may not be the most efficient or cost-effective way to control illegal immigration,” Cornyn said.

Meanwhile, the fence fixers continue patrolling with their welding kits, finding ways to keep the boredom at bay.

Lujan likes to play tricks with the illegal immigrants who cut the fence. Once, he welded a crowbar to the fence after immigrants left the tool behind.

“I was just messing with them really,” Lujan said with a smile. “They were using it to pry open the fence and in their hurry to get back, they dropped it. So I was just teasing them a bit, saying, `Hey, here's your crowbar. Don't forget it. It will be here for the next time. If you can take it off, you can have it.'”

It's been there for two years.