SAN DIEGO: Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants come to break through the U.S. and Mexico border. They must pass through the U.S. Border Patrol, who use their wits, strategies, and the wall to enforce the law and keep America safe. Some take a journey of peril through mountains, mesas, and barren terrain with no water or shelter. Others smuggle humans and drugs in unseaworthy boats. Asylum-seekers head for ports of entry and illegal immigrants head for open ground. Always surveilling, detecting, and preventing, U.S. Border Patrol agents are the men and women that work at remote posts and busy checkpoints 24/7.
Agents protecting the very values immigrants come to America to find.
“We are guardians of our Nation’s borders…” U.S. Border Patrol
“…We serve the American public with vigilance, integrity, and professionalism,” concludes the Border Patrol mission statement.
It is this vital mission which safeguards the American people from terrorists and their weapons, narcotics and traffickers, convicted criminals, violent gang members, and the burden of undocumented aliens. The San Diego Sector is responsible for more than 56,831 square miles of inland area, including 931 linear miles of coastline and 60 linear miles of international border with Mexico.
A border tour of a lifetime.
When reaching out to Border Patrol, things were iffy during the government shutdown. Agents were assigned to ‘essential duties’. Nonetheless, Fabian Carbajal, Public Affairs, San Diego Sector responded with an offer for an exclusive border tour. A chance to see history-in-the-making right in my own back yard.
Within minutes of meeting Carbajal, it was destined to be an awesome experience. Carbajal brings 4 years as a U.S. Marine to his Border Patrol job, serving thirteen years to date. Having been in combat in Fallujah, Iraq, Carbajal possesses the necessary skills to protect our border.
Marksmanship, discernment/judgment, fitness, confidence, endurance, and language acuity are all passports to the Border Patrol Academy.
The visit is to learn everything possible about Border Patrol. How they do their job, especially under a national spotlight with raging border wall issues.
First glance at Border Patrol and its wall.
We headed east to Otay Mesa on a new dirt road, privy only to Border Patrol, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the federal task force master. Alongside the road, over rolling topography, stretches a new 18-foot primary wall. Only five months in the making, the new barrier replaces an old one that separates the U.S. from sprawling Tijuana, Mexico.
While driving, Carbajal compares border field agents and ports of entry agents to how the U.S. Marines and Navy work together while having separate roles.
Like the Grand Canyon that channels the mighty Colorado River – Carbajal helped me see how the wall redirects those who would cross illegally (and their cargo) to the ports of entry for official inspection.
A typical Border Patrol day in sunny San Diego.
First up for an agent is muster when a Watch Commander assigns a zone to work. He talks about threats and crossings detailed in Intelligence reports. Agents have a talk system; they call in when they spot subjects walking, or footprints. The system tracks and updates illegals’ positions so agents can follow and catch them.
Agents work singly, no partners. Like lone wolves – the day’s survival, success depends on them. Once in their zone, they have sensors, scope sights, and binoculars, which help the agent track undocumented aliens attempting to cross in America.
“We always have to be alert and be ready. Anyone we encounter between ports of entry we have to stop and detain” says Carbajal.
“It can vary from a migrant that wants to come and work and has a dream, to a gang member or possible terrorist. You never know who you will encounter in the field until you make that detention and take them back to the station where we can do fingerprint rolling, put them in the FBI system and figure out who they are,” he adds.
An agent has to maintain 100 percent alertness and has to ‘flip a switch’ in their response to a family with children versus coming upon an MS-13 gang member.
Every border patrol agent carries a handgun. They also have shotguns and access to M4 assault rifles. They carry non-lethal Tasers, batons, and pepper spray. Each quarter agents have to train using non-lethal weapons in different confrontation scenarios.
“We can never make the wrong call on what type of force we use,” states Carbajal.
The prolific migrant crises Border Agents must deal with.
Like a tsunami that travels thousands of miles, caravans of migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador have reached our shores. They come to apply for asylum claiming credible fear from their country. When someone has an asylum claim – they have to go to the port of entry and get in line.
When they arrive in the thousands, illegal immigrants overwhelm the port of entry creating a human backlog. The people lose patience to wait their turn and cross illegally through the border. When encountered by Border Patrol they are taken to a processing center for initial casework – and then turned over within 24-72 hours to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Border Patrol does not determine ‘credible fear’ for asylum cases.
Immigrants have to wait to be assigned to an ICE asylum officer.
ICE is already backlogged with asylum cases at the ports of entry. ICE detention centers are full, which falls back to Border Patrol. They have to feed, care, do medical checks, and hold the illegals who jump our fences to make an asylum claim. The need is much greater than Border Patrol is set up for.
“These caravan people are leaving countries where there is no law, or is part of the claim they have, yet they come here and break the law to try to enter the U.S.,” says Carbajal.
Border Patrol wants immigrants to enter through the front door.
Having the primary wall gives control of the influx of illegals by eliminating the back door approach.
Washington Times reports on Jan 29 that a top Pentagon official says the U.S. is tracking three separate migrant caravans estimated to be more than 12,000 in size. Border Patrol calls on its northern partners to assist with these emergencies.
U.S. military troops help with frontline presence helping to strengthen the barriers.
The first primary border walls link to Vietnam.
“Before 1991, we had no type of barrier or wall at all at San Diego Sector…back in the day when we had thousands and thousands of people just running through,” says Carbajal.
Of the sixty miles of land the San Diego Border Patrol is responsible for, all but fourteen miles have a border wall. But some of it is decades old. New 18-foot walls replace the first primary walls. Those walls are six-to-eight panels of scrap metal. Scrap metal, original in use as landing mats during the Vietnam era. The illegals use the corrugated sides of the scrap metal wall for footholds. This image shows the difference between new and old barrier walls, defining clearly the benefit of the newer, taller slatted wall to the corrugated metal and concertina wire now being replaced.
The new wall is steel bollard posts with concrete cores. Difficult if not impossible to climb.
The underground posts are reinforced with two to four feet of reinforcing bars, or rebar. Steel rods that go deep into the earth to stop tunneling.
The top of each wall panel has a slanted anti-climb panel. A see-through or slatted wall helps Border Patrol with situational awareness.
Double wall barriers
A double, secondary wall, on the other side the access road, runs parallel to the primary wall. The double walls start at the Pacific Ocean and head east thirteen miles along San Diego’s international border to Otay Mesa. Illegals cut through the secondary wall, made of steel mesh, using a power chop saw, grinder or other cutting tools. It is full of patch holes.
“With a ladder- [if] they are able to jump over it [primary wall] or get across it…it’s difficult for them to get back across to Mexico, buying us time to come over here and make an arrest.
Which is one of the primary purposes of having a wall,” notes Carbajal.
Border officials believe Trump’s push is to replace the secondary steel mesh wall with a 30-foot wall. (See prototype photos at the end of this story.) Thirty feet is the end game with no escape. For the time being, Border Patrol has reinforced the secondary steel mesh wall with concertina wire.
Border security priority is to replace the Vietnam era wall.
There are still fourteen miles of open border in the San Diego sector. In Tecate, Mexico, existing scrap metal fencing might as well be corridors. This is one area that Border Patrol hopes the completion of a wall will stem the illegal tide. Therefore offering Border Patrol agents a chance to safely patrol the line.
Why Illegals prefer the San Diego/Tijuana border for crossings.
Simply put, once in the sanctuary state of California, there are millions of other immigrants to blend in with. But the consequences of ignoring laws and warnings can go bad.
In November 2018, an attempt to smuggle illegal immigrants near Campo, Calif., ends in a deadly car crash. Three illegals were killed and eight seriously injured. The illegals entered America by cutting a hole in the border wall big enough for a car. This led to the deadly 100 mph chase for Border Patrol, reports US News and World Report.
When aliens breach our border, they will overwhelm an agent, take their gun and shoot them.
A 2017 Washington Times piece illustrates this,
“Two agents were tracking a group of illegal immigrants in southern Arizona and when they moved in to make the arrest, one of the illegals attacked and grabbed an agent’s gun. The other agent shot the immigrant, who later died of the wound, said Tucson Sector Chief Patrol Agent Rodolfo Karisch….The incident highlights the threat and dangers our agents face daily in protecting our borders and communities.”
Operation Gatekeeper opens the way for security enhancements.
San Diego gained national attention in 1994 with the inception of Operation Gatekeeper. At the time, the former Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, and the Executive Office for Immigration Review made commitments of resources and strategies to reverse decades of neglect along the San Diego border.
More tools and new specialty units were created.
The Horse Patrol, Border Patrol Search and Rescue (BORSTAR), Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), Mobile Response Team, and a Field Intelligence Team further the mission of U.S Border Patrol.
Today, 2,200 Border Patrol permanently work at 8 stations within the Sector; two checkpoints are outside of the city.
Recently, a San Clemente checkpoint confiscated 51 pounds of cocaine and heroin destined for Americans.
Border Patrol moves mountains to rise to the threat of illegal immigration.
Keeping America safe came with the dawn of a free nation. We’re a light on a proverbial hill that draws the best and worst. Approaching Imperial Beach and Playas de Tijuana, at the Pacific Ocean, is Smuggler’s Gulch.
It was a notorious corridor for smuggling cattle, alcohol, and other contraband freely across the border. Swarms of illegal crossers left Tijuana to sneak in through the gulch at night.
Environmentalists put up a fight when the entire gulch depression was built up to be a mountain to erect the secondary wall and stop the lawless activities.
The primary wall runs deep through the gulch. A secondary steel mesh wall and a Border Patrol road, run on top the man-made mountain – a stone’s throw north of the gulch. Stadium lights flood the area at night.
It is crucial our border defense evolves with our nation’s rising threat level.
Cattle rustlers and bootleggers were once a nefarious breed but their threat never grew to match cartel members, narcotics, and MS-13 gangs. Much less the suicide terrorist bombers bringing weapons and mass destruction into our nation.
Completed walls prevent the cat-and-mouse games in remote regions.
In the early 2000s, the Northern mountain of Otay Mesa were not protected by a wall. Border Patrol agents would have to work the porous area at great risk. Thus, illegals had time to run back to Mexico, avoiding arrest, before Border Patrol could apprehend them. Only to try again tomorrow.
Imagine being in the remoteness and hearing a chilling gunshot.
An agent, working in the same zone as Carbajal, got into a tangle with a gang member trying to take away the agent’s gun. Carbajal saw the altercation from a vehicle high point scope. The spine-tingling call of “shots fired” came over a radio that went quickly went silent, due to sketchy radio coverage.
Carbajal tracked them in a canyon at night to find the agent unharmed and the gang member wounded. The agents, EMT-trained, stopped the bleeding and carried the illegal alien out.
Border Security is more than a wall.
Border Patrol agents use off-road vehicles, helicopters, horses, and bikes to track illegals over the open terrain.
A K-9 unit is able to sniff out humans and narcotics. Patrol boats access the deep and shallow water boundaries used for smuggling. The San Diego Sector is testing drones to help locate and track movement over the vast and varied geography. This facilitates both mobilization and response of the agents.
Border Patrol, San Diego Sector, earns its frontline reputation.
Statistics from 2017 to 2019 reveal a total of 107,694 illegal apprehensions and maritime interdictions. Certainly, that’s a lot, but not near the San Diego Sector record high in 1986 of 628,000 apprehensions.
Compare that to the nationwide U.S. Border Patrol criminal alien arrests from FY 2016 – FY2018TD of 27,632. The criminal influx is staggering.
Additionally, from FY 2017 to FY 2019TD, San Diego Sector Border Patrol confiscated over 33,676 lbs. of marijuana (still a federal offense), methamphetamine, and cocaine. Gratefully, these drugs won’t end up hurting or killing Americans.
Illegals, hiding sometimes just steps away from their nemesis.
Where the new 18-foot wall ends abruptly at Otay Mesa, we see a lone agent watching a potential illegal alien washing his clothes in the canyon creek. The unnamed agent tells us, that every day people walk up to the end of the wall and try to come across, just like that.
Can the new wall on the Congressional hot plate be the best yet?
Positive attributes of the new eight wall prototypes will add to the final design. Each will section being tailored to each border state’s needs. The plans include built-in lights, cameras, sensors, and roads.
Continuing to build and expand America’s Southern border wall is a fight worth winning. Border Patrol knows why at all levels. They are the first defense at holding back the tide and stemming the humanitarian crises.
The world can do with less danger, confrontation, and pain.
Nonetheless, with the freedoms an opportunities America offers, there will always be people that want to come here.
Agent Carbajal hopes Congress can close the immigration loopholes to ebb the tide of people seeking to illegally enter America. Removing this human crisis, border agents will be able to focus on catching the bad guys with the guns, bombs, and drugs.
Featured Image: SAN DIEGO, January 25, 2019. Fabian Carbajal, U.S. Border Patrol Agent at U.S./Mexico border. Patriot Profiles photo Jeanne McKinney