EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — Calling the privately-built border wall in Sunland Park, New Mexico, a “game-changer,” some Department of Homeland Security officials say they’re open to efforts to reduce smuggling and other illegal activity.
“I welcome all that want to be part of the solution,” said Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf during a visit to El Paso on Wednesday. He was responding to a question from reporters about efforts by a private organization to build a chunk of border wall in South Texas.
“Obviously, when you’re talking about a border wall system you have to do that in close connection with CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection), the Army Corps of Engineers and the like. The requirements that they have are pretty robust. … It has to meet certain requirements,” Wolf said. “So if there are going to be private entities that do that, we want to make sure that we’re talking to them.”
The Houston-based nonprofit We Build the Wall built a half-mile stretch of steel bollard wall in Sunland Park this summer, despite last-minute wrangling with local officials over permits. While the group’s land-clearing activity continues in Hidalgo County, Texas, the International Boundary and Water Commission asked the group to stop construction of a private border wall until the project can be fully reviewed to ensure it does not violate international laws.
Wolf conceded that pending and threatened litigation over the right-of-way over land needed to build new wall systems is an obstacle, but that DHS and partner agencies like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continue to engage land owners on a daily basis.
“We continue to push forward with land acquisition and construction of the wall. Both go hand in hand,” Wolf said.
Gloria Chavez, El Paso Sector Chief of the U.S. Border Patrol, said the wall strategy is critical for the safety of her agents and so they can do the job more effectively.
“The border wall structure is a critical tool for our enforcement strategy … whether it’s privately own or government-owned, I welcome it because I know it’s a proven concept. … The border wall works,” Chavez said during Wolf’s tour of her sector.
“It helps us manage the flow (of migrants) more effectively, not stop it — because there is a misconception out there that border wall is built to stop migration, and that’s not the case. The border wall is built to help the Border Patrol, the agents manage the flow more effectively.”
She added that the steel-bollard wall that’s replacing plank-style and chain-link border barrier makes her agents safer because it allows them to see what’s coming their way from the Mexican side.
“We have seen how the assaults drop, we’ve seen how the entries no longer exist in those zones. … So, yes, we welcome it — that an array of tools in the toolbox that can help us do the job more effectively,” Chavez said.
Addressing We Build the Wall’s privately-built structure in Sunland Park, Chavez described it as very effective.
“This current private wall that was built, from what I have heard, has been very effective. In the condition that it is it gives us the all-weather road, it gives us the bollard-style type wall, it gives us lighting and it gives us the technology that we need to detect any type of entry coming into that area,” the El Paso Sector Chief said.
She added that in that half-mile stretch of border her agents previously dealt with “a lot of illegal activity” including the smuggling of Brazilian migrants as well as some violent acts.
“When that wall got built, everything changed for us and we were able to manage border enforcement actions there even better. Did (migrant activity) shift? Yes, absolutely — to an area we were able to work it more effectively,” Chavez said.