SAN DIEGO, Calif. – (KSEE24) Since President Donald Trump took office, the border between the United States and Mexico has been in the national spotlight.
The president is now seeking money for the controversial wall.
His requirements for the wall are for it to be between 18 to 30 feet high; it can either be solid concrete or have a see-through component.
Companies interested in bidding submitted proposals earlier this month.
Would the wall change the border is the question.
Eyewitness News reporter Joe Moeller went down to the California border in San Diego for the three-part series “The Wall.”
Where the fence starts in the calm Pacific Ocean is also where a controversy begins.
A dividing line separates the U.S. from Mexico.
This place is not seen by most Americans, and most don’t know what really goes on here. They don’t tell them the dangers of crossing the border illegally.
“As we get better at enforcing on the border, the organizations get much more aggressive and much more bold,” said Jose Hernandez, who is one of more than 2,000 border patrol agents in San Diego. “They’ll know this is where the end of the fence is.”
This place is ground zero for the international drug trade.
“We are seeing an increase in cocaine, heroine, – methamphetamine,” Hernandez said.
Illegal goods are smuggled in cars, dropped by planes small planes, and thrown over. Sometimes the contraband is out of plain sight in million-dollar tunnels built by cartels.
“Since 9/11 we have found 60 [tunnels],” Hernandez said.
One load smuggled through a tunnel can be worth more than the tunnel cost to dig.
Roughly 90 percent of the cocaine in the U.S. comes from south of the border. Agents here have no choice but to keep their guards up.
“Assaults are up a little again this year over last year. Right now we’re [at] about 40, and we still have six months left in this year,” Hernandez said.
Those looking to cross legally can be waiting two, three, or four hours.
There are 75,000 people who pass north through the port of san ysidro in San Diego every single day for work, school, or tourism.
People without papers who are desperate to get north find a way through – around the barriers or through them.
In 2016, there were 550 cuts in the fences just in San Diego. People make a quick cut and run through.
Recently on the rise is the number of people attempting to get to the U.S. through boats up the coast.
From the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, there is a border barrier of some sort for 705 miles. Other areas have natural barriers like mountains or rivers.
Populated areas can have two or more barriers.
On one side is the primary fence – built in 1995 using material left from the Vietnam War. This is intended to stop vehicles.
The secondary fence, completed in 2008 under President George W. Bush’s Secure Fence Act is designed to stop people.
There is only 37 miles nationwide of this fencing.
“The primary fence is 6 maybe 8 feet tall depending on where you are. On the left hand side this fence is 15 to 18 feet high depending on where you go,” Hernandez said.
Just in the San Diego sector, the primary fence stretches 48 miles. It ends where the Otay mountain range begins.
“Right here is the United States; that rock behind it is in mexico,” Hernandez demonstrated.
The location is miles from any U.S. city, and to the left is Tijuana, Mexico.
You can easily see the life below – dirt roads, traffic, and the people coming and going from unfinished hillside homes.
During Eyewitness News’ 20 minutes at the location, a man with a backpack in hand came out of the hills and approached. He stopped and went west along the fence.
He may have been trying to cross. People who cross sometimes get lost in the wilderness. Some even end up dying from dehydration or the cold. Apprehensions are common.
“In San Diego sector we average about 85 people a day,” Hernandez said.
In 2016, 31,891 people were apprehended. That is just in the San Diego sector.
“It is the first time we have broken 30,000 apprehensions in the last five years,” Hernandez said.
There were 415,816 illegal crossers apprehended in 2016 nationwide. In 2015 there were 337,117.
“Texas is now experiencing their surge in people crossing the border,” Hernandez said.
Apprehensions are much lower in California than the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas – which had 188,000 last year alone.
Hernandez said they will go where they know it is easier.
The border patrol’s union came out in support of President Donald Trump.
“We have been saying for years what we thought we needed,” said Terence Shigg of the National Border Patrol Council. “It was the first time we actually had someone that actually considered us the subject matter expert.”
The president proposed more resources and manpower. Currently there are just over 21,000 agents.
“There is actually a legal number that we are supposed to have; we’re 1,200 below that,” Shigg said.
The president’s most controversial and debated proposal – the construction of “the wall.”
“We want to make sure it is something that is not easily defeatable – something that isn’t cut, or something that isn’t easily climbed over or gone under,” Shigg said.
The current infrastructure has lights, technology, and agents – but they say they need more.
The union said agents think the border is about 40 percent secure.
But the question is still up in the air: Is a $25 billion wall the way to go?
President Bush’s secondary fence, completed nearly a decade ago, cut apprehension numbers by hundreds of thousands.
“We need that infrastructure – a wall is part of that infrastructure,” Shigg said.
But even with these current fences, the drugs and people still continue to flow into the United States.
Hernandez said, “I think our stance on the border is what made them start using tunnels more often.”
Since President Trump took office, illegal crossings have decreased.
“We want to know who is coming across the border, and that’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Hernandez said.
But will the wall make us safer, and is it worth it?
That is still be determined.