Wall, stinking ridiculous wall: Fun Facts Sheet

A French photographer constructed a large picture of a baby peeking over the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Tecate, Sept. 11, 2017./Jean Guerrero. KPBS

Wall, stinking ridiculous wall. Thanks to Donald Trump’s government shutdown and faux emergency order centered around his infantile obsession with “The Wall,” we’ve been media- and Republican-bombarded with wall talk.

As the case with any hot journalism story, it’s the pleasure of The Grapevine to join the fray. This is possible due to the great reporting from inewsource, the non-profit public investigations news site based at San Diego State University that partners with regional media sources.

Guilty pleasure or hair-wringing no-puedo, everybody wants to know more about walls; walls around San Diego County, walls across America, walls or steel slats or whatever.

Speaking of steel slats, here’s some fun facts.

Guess who is the leading supplier of steel slats in the US?

Time’s up.

It’s Russian oligarch and Putin pal Roman Abramovich. His Russian-based Evraz multinational corporation sold 400,000 tons of steel to the US last year, according to Reuters. His North American assets sold 2.2. million tons. Another fun fact, Abramovich co-owns the popular Chelsea (England) football club.

The latest price quoted price of steel in the US is $767 per net ton.  steelbenchmarker.com/

While we’re on the roll, the other major suppliers of steel slats are companies owned by– ta-da, you know the name — Oleg Derispaka, caught up in the Trump-Russia scandal.His Rusal was exempted from tariffs. NLMK, owned by Russian billionaire Valdimir Lissin faced $150 million in tariffs more than offset by 2.2 million rons of steel sales.BC

Seriously, the steel slat stuff is straight-up Russian something or other. Seriously, and apparently they’re easy to defeat. Just ask NBC News.

Steel slats aside, let’s get on with the promised attraction: Walls, walls and more stinking facts about San Diego and US border barriers.

— Dan Weisman, editor.

How much wall is there now?

There are 653 miles of fencing along the 1,954-mile border that stretches from California to Texas. That includes 353 miles of wall mainly intended to stop people on foot, 181 miles of permanent vehicle barriers and 119 miles of temporary vehicle barriers.

Most of that barrier is fairly new — 90 percent was built since 2005 by Republican President George W. Bush and Democratic President Barack Obama.

About 37 miles of that border wall also has a secondary barrier as a backup. Primarily used in urban border areas such as San Diego, a second barrier creates a kind of no man’s land that is easier for Border Patrol agents to patrol and spot individuals entering the country illegally.

Stretches of secondary fencing are topped with spirals of concertina wire along the U.S.-Mexico border between the San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry, in San Diego on Aug. 16, 2017. Border Patrol agents use the frontage road between this and primary fencing to patrol for immigrants attempting to enter the U.S. illegally./Brandon Quester.inewsource

That’s a lot of border without a wall. Which parts of the border are fenced?

Most of the current wall — about 82 percent — is in California, Arizona and New Mexico. Texas, which has the greatest share of the border with Mexico, has the fewest miles of fencing.

In heavily fenced California, there are few gaps between barriers. That’s not the case in Texas, where hundreds of miles separate sections of the wall.

Of the 1,954-mile U.S.-Mexico border, Texas has the greatest share at 1,255 miles. However, it has about as many miles of the main wall as California and New Mexico. What do we know about what the administration wants to build?

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. Customs and Border Protection was asking Congress for $18 billion over 10 years for wall construction. The money would pay for 316 miles of new wall and the reconstruction of 407 miles of existing barriers.

That construction boom would overshadow the 570 miles built from 2006 to 2009 following the 2006 Secure Fence Act, which called for hundreds of miles of double-layered fencing including in eastern California, Arizona and eastern Texas.

Assuming that all of the 316 miles of new wall is primary fencing, rather than new secondary backup barriers, that would bring the wall to 969 miles, about half the length of the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s also slightly more than the 700- to 900-mile wall Trump had suggested this past July.

Do we know how the wall might impact illegal immigration?

Using data obtained by inewsource and KPBS through a Freedom of Information Act request, we analyzed the impact of illegal entry into the U.S. along different sections of the border as new fencing was built. We found that generally wherever new fencing was built, illegal immigration declined.

However, illegal immigration didn’t stop. Immigrants determined to illegally enter the U.S. just moved their routes to less fortified sections of the border. For example, in the early 1990s, nearly 70 percent of immigrants detained for illegally entering the country were stopped in the San Diego and El Paso border sectors. Starting in 1994 enforcement actions and new wall construction made those areas less attractive border crossers and detentions plummeted.

At the same time, detentions in the Tucson border sector skyrocketed, from about 8 percent of all detentions in 1993 to 38 percent by 2000. The Border Patrol sector with the greatest share of detentions along the southern border has shifted from San Diego in the 1970s through 1990s to Tucson through the 2000s to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas through the past four years.

Why not fence the entire border then?

A Border Patrol agent vehicle sits between secondary fencing, which includes concertina wire at the top and bottom, and a basic chain-link fence, known as tertiary fencing. Photo was taken on Aug. 16, 2017./Brandon Quester.inewsource

In fiscal 2017, the Rio Grande Valley border sector in eastern Texas had 45 percent of the apprehensions for illegal entry, the highest share along the southwestern border. That would seem to make Texas a likely candidate for more wall construction.

However, property disputes, the snaking Rio Grande river and other natural barriers make Texas one of the most challenging parts of the country to fence.

Even where there’s fencing, smugglers — particularly those in drug cartels — have found ways to circumvent the wall using tunnels and even drones.

And declining apprehensions along the border have made some question the need for a wall. This past fiscal year the Border Patrol detained 303,916 people trying to enter the country illegally at the southern border. That’s the lowest number since 1971.


Leonardo Castañeda
Leonardo Castañeda is a reporter and economic analyst for inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email leocastaneda [at] inewsource [dot] org.


OK, admit it, you haven’t enough of Wall talk. Here’s some more…

From left, sections of primary, secondary and tertiary fencing are shown along the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego. (Brandon Quester/inewsource)

Vehicle fencing is intended to stop motorized vehicles from entering, and is broken down by permanent and temporary fencing:

  • Permanent vehicle: Most of the 181 miles of this fencing is in Arizona. It can be as simple as railroad ties forming a rudimentary picket fence.
  • Temporary vehicle: Most of the almost 119 miles of this fencing is in El Centro; Tucson, Arizona; and El Paso, Texas. Some is called “Normandy” fencing — metal X’s holding railroad ties.

From left, permanent and temporary vehicle fencing is shown along the U.S.-Mexico border near Tecate. (Brandon Quester/inewsource)

What impact has border fencing had on illegal immigration?

While the answer to this question has caveats, such as the strength of the economies north and south of the border and U.S. immigration enforcement efforts, inewsource used data about fencing construction and apprehensions over time to take a more quantitative approach.

In general, as fencing increased along the border, apprehensions in construction areas dropped. But people didn’t stop trying to enter the country illegally. They shifted to less-fortified and more remote areas of the border.

That shift continued until a significant fencing construction boom began in the mid-2000s which, among other factors, resulted in an overall decline in the number of people attempting to enter the U.S. illegally. That decline continued until around 2011, when fencing construction slowed.

The same is true for ramped up illegal immigration enforcement initiatives by CBP. For example, the majority of apprehensions along the border in the 1980s and 1990s — nearly half — were in San Diego. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton ramped up fencing construction in San Diego and launched Operation Gatekeeper to make it harder for people to cross illegally into the U.S.

The result was the flow of illegal immigration shifted east toward Arizona.

About Brandon Quester:

Brandon Quester is director of data and visuals at inewsource. To contact him with tips, suggestions or corrections, please email brandonquester [at] inewsource [dot] org.

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