As all good storytellers know, a well-told tale will make your story stick. But are these dramatic border stories really true?
This week, my friend Scott Nicol and I traveled across the Arizona-Sonora border from Sasabe to the eastern San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, looking for signs of this lax and careless border security we have heard so much about.
What we saw here on the border bears little relation to sensational stories of treachery and government betrayal of our nation’s security. Rather, we saw a heavily fortified border, guarded by surveillance towers and mobile units, and border patrol agents, and massive border walls.
Check out my slide show on Flickr
August 11, 2012 Nogales, Sonora/Arizona
In 2011 DHS replaced the old landing mat border wall in Nogales, Sonora/Arizona with the bollard style border wall pictured here. Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona were once so integrated that their communities called themselves “Ambos Nogales” (both Nogales). They are now separated by 18-foot border wall built of concrete filled iron bollards, topped with steel plates, and embedded in deep trenches.
August 12, 2012 Coronado National ForestThe gorgeous Coronado National Forest covers 1,780,000 acres of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. The rugged terrain is made accessible by forest service roads, and we observed a variety of border security measures in place along this border. Driving through the southeastern Arizona region of the forest, we saw border patrol agents traversing the roads, grounded in a border patrol operating base in the center of the area, and supported by a mobile patrol unit stationed at the top of a peak. Further east, we observed the towers of SBI Net’s pilot project, P28, the failed “Virtual Fence.” SBInet (a component of SBI) was a program created under U.S. Customs and Border Protection to design a new integrated system of personnel, infrastructure, technology, and rapid response to secure the northern and southern land borders of the U.S. Project 28, a 28-mile pilot section of SBInet in the Tucson sector of the Arizona-Mexico border was estimated to cost $67 million. The value of Boeing’s three-year contract to build SBInet across both the northern and southern borders was estimated by various sources at various times to be between $2 billion and $8 billion. The program was finally discontinued because the technology did not work.
August 12, 2012 Sasabe Port of EntryThe towns of Sasabe, Arizona and Sasabe, Sonora are regulated by a small Port of Entry, and the border is fortified by bollard style border wall in both eastern & western directions.
August 13, 2012 Naco, Arizona/SonoraTravel east of Nogales, and you come upon another set of sister cities. Naco, Arizona is separated from Naco, Sonora by a Port of Entry, and fortified by the old landing mat border wall. Numerous repairs to breaches in the wall were marked by dates of repair.
Guarding a low wetland area, Naco’s “New Section” was built of small bollards showing evidence of dozens of breaches. Bollard fencing is preferable to the old solid metal wall, particularly in areas with lots of foliage and trees, because border patrol agents can see people on the other side of the wall.A massive stack of new iron bollard fencing indicated that the old border wall will soon be replace by new, 18-foot iron bollards topped with metal plates.
August 13, 2012 Douglas, Arizona Port of EntryTraveling east again, we come to the highly fortified town of Douglas, Arizona. Here we saw more bollard style wall, doubled up near the port, and in the town center. Just outside the town, we saw a border patrol station ringed with protective razor wire, and another ringed compound in the center of town a few hundred feet from the small vehicle Port of Entry. Over on the east side of town, a Granite Construction staging area facilitates the replacement of old landing mat wall with iron bollard style panels.
August 13, 2012 San Bernadino National Wildlife Refuge
East of Douglas, near the New Mexico Border, you will find the lovely San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1988. The refuge is home to hundreds of species of birds, reptiles & amphibians, and mammals and supports one quarter of the fish species native to the state of Arizona.Here the southern boundary of the refuge is fortified with two different styles of vehicle barriers. Normandy style barriers cross over a low, wet spot over Silver Creek. The Mexican landowner on the other side of the border has worked closely with the refuge to develop erosion control structures.
Along a long stretch of the southeastern end of the refuge, you will see a double vehicle barrier. To prevent trespassers from trampling the sensitive habitat, The U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife built a vehicle barrier along the southern border of the refuge.
Later, the Department of Homeland Security built an additional vehicle barrier just 60 feet to the south, in order to avoid losing the strip of Roosevelt Reservation Easement, a 60-foot strip of land established in the early 20th century in order to facilitate the enforcement of the border.Far into the distance, the border wall and access road cut through the landscape, disrupting delicate habitat. Ironically, the very infrastructure built to allow border patrol greater access may also end up facilitating the rapid movement of trespassers through the area.
We have all heard the sensational stories, but what we saw on our trip was not the crazy wild frontier of the spaghetti western tradition. In fact, our observations reinforced our confidence in many studies that show that our border build up is not only excessive, but is verging on being counterproductive.
Wild west stories are certainly part of the American literary and cultural tradition. But when public policy starts to rely on gripping stories instead of evidence-based research, then it’s time to get out to the border and see for yourself.