May 15, 2009
by Daniel Novick
EL PASO, Texas -- The border fence cost taxpayers billions of dollars and was one of the most controversial border issues Americans faced. Now up in the El Paso for more than a year now, KFOX wanted to find out if it works and if it's worth the price tag.
Border Patrol Agent Joe Romero has worked on the U.S/Mexico border for three years."We're looking for any indication as to whether or not something may have come through," he told KFOX while on a ride-a-long.He's seen what life on the border is like with the new fence, and without it."It provides you precious time to be able to respond. And that is what the fence is intended to do is to gain time," said Romero.
Throughout the four hours KFOX spent with Romero, he kept bringing up time, and how important it is for agents like himself.
"We've got seconds, precious seconds. In some cases, 15, 20 second sprint from the river bank into one of the community areas. That's huge for us, because if this fence is going to buy us the minute and a half, two minutes that we need, to us, that's gold," Romero told KFOX.
Romero contends that it would take someone at least a minute to jump the new fence, but in exclusive video obtained by KFOX, it takes just 20 seconds for the suspect to go out of the view of the camera and jump the fence.
"We're talking 30 seconds, a minute," said James Stack, president of the local National Border Patrol Council Chapter. "If you are a quarter of a mile away and you become alerted to that activity, by the time you get there, they're probably over the fence."He said easily jumping the fence isn't the only problem. In the Downtown El Paso area agents are stationed between the fence and the border.
Stack said that makes them ineffective at catching illegal immigrants."The way personnel are deployed there, there's really nobody north of the fence, so once they're north, they're home free," Stack told KFOX.
But Romero contends the fence was built this way for a good reason."It allows us to patrol the actual border itself and not give up, because obviously this is a much larger spance of territory. Over there, the border sits three meters off the border. Here it sits considerably off," he said.
The Border Patrol said because of the new fence, they've been able to direct more of their manpower and resources to where the old fences are.
Like near the Santa Fe Bridge in Downtown El Paso, where moments after our KFOX crew left, about a dozen people tried and failed to get across."We have now taken control of this area of the border where we didn't before," said Romero."Those areas that you're talking about, historically and statistically have always been high traffic areas," said Stack.
So was the cost worth it? Romero will tell you not having to do constant maintenance on the new fence like they have to daily on the old fence is saving tons of money. Plus, "Over a 25 year period, it's actually cheaper to have this fence, to build a fence and maintain it over at 25 year period, than it would to hire the same or the number of agents we would need to do the job instead of the fence," said Romero.
But Stack would take the billions and invest differently."I think more technology. Sensors, cameras, infrared cameras, more agents, more boots on the ground, that probably would have been a wiser investment rather than the fence," Stack told KFOX.
He said not to believe all the hype about the fence."You're being deceived. You're being deceived. You can count the numbers you catch, but they're is no way to measure the numbers you don't catch," said Stack.
Keep in mind that the new fence is not up all across the El Paso sector. In parts where a primary fence already existed, the federal government was not willing to put up the new fence.
As KFOX has reported, President Barack Obama's budget blueprint does not include extending the border fence any further. However, that should not affect the fence already up in the El Paso area.