Holes are cut and burrows are dug under the border fence between the United States and Mexico each and every day, and they never seem to end.
Breaches are especially prevalent in February and March, during the harvest season for marijuana, in the Albuquerque District’s area of responsibility, necessitating the United States government to have maintenance contracts in place to repair them.
When Border Patrol agents find breaches or burrows, they stop and mark the area using GPS coordinates to obtain the latitude and longitude. They enter this information, along with the type of fence and photographs, into a database called the Breach Module.
Larry Baca, quality assurance and construction inspector for the El Paso Resident Office, who has been involved in border fence maintenance for nearly three years, said every breach is assigned a number by the Breach Module. The District’s maintenance contractor is required to make the repair within 24 hours. The contractor works seven days a week.
“We take care of approximately 280 miles of fence and access road from Animas, N.M., near the Arizona border, all the way to Sierra Blanca, Texas,” Baca said. “I do random inspections of the repairs, and in the [Border Patrol’s] El Paso Sector we have more breaches than anywhere else.”
According to Baca, there are multiple breaches per day in the portion of the fence the District maintains.
The El Paso Sector of the fence runs from Santa Teresa, N.M., to Fabens, Texas, about 50 miles of which runs alongside Juarez, Mexico, a heavily populated area rife with gang activity associated with illegal drugs. Breaches in this area are made using a variety of tools.
In urban areas like El Paso, the fence is usually classified as a “pedestrian fence” and constructed of 1 or 2½ inch chain link, expanded metal or wire mesh, sometimes rising as high as 18 feet, where the primary goal is to stop pedestrian traffic. In rural areas, the fence is more likely to be classified as “vehicle fence” constructed primarily to block vehicle access rather than pedestrians. It, too, uses various materials and designs including bollard posts, Normandy-style barriers and Vietnam-era legacy “landing mat” fence. The fence sometimes extends underground.
Multiple gates in the fence, especially in urban areas, allow maintenance workers the access necessary to fix breaches.
“There are a lot of gates in the El Paso Sector because it runs along the Rio Grande and the access road is on the south side of the fence,” Baca said. “Many of these gates are large, 20 foot-sliding gates to accommodate the maintenance and Border Patrol vehicles that need to access the fence via the levee road.”
Baca said he and the contractor look at the Breach Module each day, and Baca verifies and edits the module to assign the proper contract line items to each breach. The contractor then downloads the information and sends a four-man team made up of a supervisor, two welders and a helper to each breach location.
“The team has been harassed while making repairs, and they have had their photos taken by observers on the Mexican side,” Baca said. “However, they work meticulously on the repairs and ensure the fence is restored to its original state or better. Often, you can’t even tell repairs were made.”
Baca said, last year, the maintenance contract for fence repairs was worth $1.7 million. The contract runs for a year and includes options. The District not only takes care of breaches but all aspects of the fence, including the foundation which can erode under heavy rain.
According to Baca, the media has reported an 80 percent decrease in illegal crossings because of increased patrolling of the fence, and he has noticed the difference.
“The system is good and getting better,” Baca said.
For now, Baca and the maintenance contractor stay ready to respond to breaches as they occur, anywhere along the 280 miles they cover.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection works to keep terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. It also has a responsibility for securing and facilitating trade and travel, while enforcing hundreds of U.S. regulations, including immigration and drug laws.