- - Tuesday, February 5, 2019


The port of entry at Sasabe, Arizona, is a perfect example of why the Democratic strategy of “border security” is simply not enough of a response to the crisis on the southern border.

The tiny border village of Sasabe sits about 70 miles southwest of Tucson in the heart of the busiest drug and human trafficking corridor in the United States. A high steel-slatted fence, known as bollard fencing, runs for about a mile east and west from the port of entry with Mexico. Where this bollard fencing ends, it is joined to a flimsy, four-strand barbed wire fence. The “medieval technology” used to attach the fences is a simple nylon cord tied with a slip knot.

I have stood at the junction of the fences and gazed into Mexico. From that vantage point, one can see several well-worn paths that carry foot traffic north into the United States. It is no surprise that all of the paths in this area used to convey drugs and human cargo converge in Mexico, just a short distance from the border. They proceed to the easiest place to cross the border — where the flimsy barbed wire fence is held in place by rope.

Real walls work. They force people to plan to go over, under, or around — or avoid the fence altogether by staying home. In the case of Sasabe, because the bollard fence extending from the port of entry does not cover enough territory, it is very easy for cartels to avoid the barrier with only the minor inconvenience of traveling a little bit further to a place that has insufficient fencing.

The Democrats want to focus on “virtual barriers” and on “hardening” ports of entry. Technological barriers are not barriers at all. And strengthening ports of entry, without building a wall between those ports, will incentivize cartels to smuggle drugs and humans through the unguarded and unfenced areas of the southern border.

Too often, sensors and cameras allow our agents to detect illegal aliens but provide no deterrence from entering the United States. We can see them as they enter, but we cannot catch them. And, of course, even if we catch them, they are liable to claim asylum and to be released into the interior of the country after a short detention.

“Hardening” our ports of entry means more technology, more equipment, more personnel and improved walls and fencing at the ports. I hope it also means that the emphasis will be on interdiction of drugs and illegal border crossers instead of the current policy that focuses on facilitating speedy and easy crossing into the United States. We want to make crossing as convenient as possible to ensure a rapid flow of legitimate economic activity. However, we should not have to dispense with border security for transnational economic purposes.

In order to provide better security at the ports of entry and ease of legal crossings, we must ensure that our customs and border agents are properly trained and equipped. Sometimes the Department of Homeland Security has failed to appropriately allocate funds for the necessary resources. For instance, I was recently told of one port that has only a single density reader to be shared between a shift of customs agents that may be as high as 30 agents. A density reader is valuable because it is a handheld tool that can instantly inform an agent whether there is contraband in a tire, side-panel, roof, or other area of a vehicle, but not when there is only one to share among agents responsible for many lanes of traffic. We simply need more and better equipment for our agents.

K-9 units that can signal illegal drugs, aliens and currency are imperative to securing the border. I am informed that we have too few of these important animal agents.

I hope that hardening the ports of entry also means that we will provide equipment and agents to examine southbound traffic better than we check out northbound traffic. A short-term field study found more than $10 million in vehicles heading back to Mexico, including $1 million in a single car. The cartels that transport drugs and people north into the United States want a way to transport large sums of money back to Mexico. We can hurt the cartels’ smuggling operations by seizing the cash going south.

We must “harden” our ports of entry and use technologically advanced resources, but we must also admit that the multibillion dollar cartels will find alternate routes to bring their products of destruction north. They will redirect their human and drug smuggling to the less secure areas of the border: places without the walls and fences. Ranchers and homeowners who live in the border region know how quickly drug and human smuggling is shifted away from ports of entry when security tightens at the ports.

The first priority is to build the wall.

• Andy Biggs is a Republican U.S. representative from Arizona.

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