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Sharp Drop In Border Apprehensions Could Signal A Change In Wall-Building Plans

A portion of the south Texas border fence and remote surveillance cameras.
Donna Burton/U.S. Customs and Border Protection (U.S. Government Work)
A portion of the south Texas border fence and remote surveillance cameras.

From Texas Standard:Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said just yesterday that it is " unlikely" that a wall along the United States' southern border will be built in full. That’s different from the Trump administration's original proposed plans to build a continuous 30-foot wall, regardless of the terrain and other potential obstacles.



  The administration says they have good reason for this – citing a sharp drop in the number of apprehensions along the border. CNN reports that  apprehensions along the Mexico border have dropped by two-thirds since January, representing a 17-year low in apprehensions.

Chris Cabrera is the vice president and national spokesperson of the  National Border Patrol Council, a union for border patrol agents.

He says the McAllen area, where he’s stationed, accounts for at least half of the nation’s border apprehensions. In January, they had 10,000 people either turn themselves in or found by border patrol. In February that number dropped to 4,000.

"I know it's pretty much slowed to a crawl out there,” he says. “Just three months ago people were turning themselves in, in huge numbers …  and now we're back to working like we used to where we're out there looking for them. They're no longer turning themselves in."

Cabrera says one thing keeping people from crossing the U.S.-Mexico border is the rhetoric surrounding the wall and unauthorized immigrants.

"People realize that this president is serious. This administration is serious about ending illegal immigration,” he says. “I think it's the political will – the actions speak louder than words. Things have been done and our agents are getting back to work. The morale is up, they got a little pep in their step and they're out there getting the job done."

The National Border Patrol Council, in an unprecedented move, endorsed Donald Trump when he was running for President. But a few stories in right-wing media say  the council felt betrayed  when President Donald Trump  selected Kevin McAleenan as acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

But Cabrera says the council hasn’t come out with a statement on the matter and is waiting before commenting.

Homeland Security Secretary Kelly has said the border wall won’t take shape solely as a physical structure, but a mix of physical barriers, as well as other methods of deterrence like sensors and drones. Cabrera predicted this when we spoke with him for our January special  The Wall. And he says now that he still thinks it’s a good idea.

"We do need barriers along the border,” he says. “Granted, if you look in the Big Bend area, you have sheer 30-40-50 foot cliffs. and putting a 30 foot wall on top of a 50 foot cliff is redundant. In Texas alone one measure wouldn't work from El Paso to Brownsville."

Also back in January, he said his hope was that the border patrol would be allowed to move away from “baby sitting” apprehended immigrants. A great number of people were turning themselves in, being processed, and waiting for court dates and asylum hearings. Meanwhile, smugglers and other criminal activities weren’t being dealt with.

Cabrera says due to the drop in people coming across the border and turning themselves in, border patrol has now been able to shift resources elsewhere.

"We're able to free a lot of these agents up to go out there and patrol,” he says. “We have some folks doing the babysitting duties, but the vast majority of those guys are freed up to go out there and do field work and prevent people from coming in, from drugs from coming – from whatever coming in.” 

Written by Beth Cortez-Neavel.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Alain Stephens heads up investigative reports for Texas Standard. A graduate of the University of North Texas and a veteran of two of the U.S. armed forces, Alain served both in the Coast Guard and the Air Force. His work has won accolades for exposing how the state pays those with disabilities below minimum wage, as well as the fast-tracking of juveniles to adult prisons. Contact Alain at astephens@kut.org, or (512) 232-6173.