The Wall, Part 3: A three-part series on the southern border

The Central Valley is a place with an abundance of immigrants.


(KSEE24) – President Donald Trump says his proposed border won’t only benefit those on the border – but all Americans. Will it impact people living in the Central Valley?

The Central Valley is a place with an abundance of immigrants. From downtown streets to the rural farmland – it’s easy to say cities like Fresno wouldn’t be what they are today without immigration.

But what if something changed?

About 350 Miles south of the Valley at the U.S. and Mexican border, would the construction of a wall help the Valley in the future? Or would that new wall hurt us?

“All of the drugs that come here, especially south of the border – Mexico,” said Robert Pennal, a retired task force commander of the Central Valley high intensity drug trafficking area.

But many say it’s not that simple of an issue.

“We have a lot to lose across all industries,” said Samuel Molina of Mi Familia Vota.

President Trump wants to keep the bad out, but some in the Valley say a wall would do more harm than good.

“There are approximately 200,000 persons who are undocumented within the Central Valley,” Molina said.

Mi Familia Vota is a nonprofit that works to help the Latino community.

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, there are 76,400 farms and ranches in California, and agriculture is a $54 billion industry.

“There are a lot of immigrant farm workers. It is already hurting the ag industry, and it is hurting the tourism industry. It is going to hurt it by billions of dollars,” Molina said.

Finding farm workers is proving to be difficult for farmers up and down the state already. That may get worse without the people to do the job.

“If something like a wall were to be built, it would be very detrimental to our economy – to our communities,” Molina said.

He said undocumented workers come here for a better life, but everyone benefits.

“He has to see what we are doing for the community,” said an undocumented Fresno State student who Eyewitness News is calling “Vanessa” for this story.

Vanessa came to the U.S. at an early age with her family and said they crossed the border illegally.

She said undocumented people have to make a living and take jobs that most won’t do.

“Labor jobs they are doing in the fields – I think they are doing good things out there. If Trump takes out all those people, that is going to be a huge problem,” Vanessa said.

She said jobs in the field and hard labor jobs support our economy.

“Vallarta, Walmart, or any store – that is where they get the food. That is the big issue for the community in general like the United States,” Vanessa said.

Her father, who is a gardener, is a prime example.

“I actually went with him working as a gardener and you know, I didn’t like it. It was hard, you know? So I said ‘I had to go to college. I don’t want that life,’” Vanessa said.

President Trump has said he wants the crime and drugs to stop flowing into the U.S., but the question is, would a wall impact any of that in the Valley?

One incident that got national attention is a homicide case out of Tulare County.

“She had developed a relationship with a man who was here illegally. He had been deported once, if not twice before,” Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said. “At some point, she wanted to discontinue that relationship. As a result of that, we believe that he killed her.”

Boudreaux explained the case of Cecilia Bravo Cabrera – a mother of four who was last seen leaving Tachi Palace Casino in Lemoore, Calif. on June 9, 2016.

Her car was found torched in an orchard near Traver, Calif.

Deputies arrested her ex – Francisco Valdivia and his other wife from Mexico, Rosalina Lopez, on suspicion of murdering Cabrera.

“This is one of very few cases in the nation that has been taken to the jury without a body for the purposes of prosecution of homicide,” Boudreaux said.

Both suspects are undocumented, according to authorities.

“Regardless of the outcome, immigration enforcement would likely pay close attention to this case,” Boudreaux said.

It’s nothing new that drugs are a problem at the border.

Pennal said, “We are heavily impacted by Mexico here. It is just because of where we are.”

Experts see it here every day.

“That is the biggest thing: coming across the border. Whether you use tunnels, you use human trafficking – whether you just use people smuggling coming across the pedestrian bridge, when you come across that border, you head up north. And we are north,” Pennal said.

Pennal knows everything about the drugs in the Valley. He said Interstate 5 and Highway 99 are highways for crime and vital for smugglers.

The billion-dollar drug industry wasn’t built by jumping a fence. It’s all about smuggling the drugs. Whether it’s underground or through the checkpoints.

“It is real simple. If you are watching the border – and as soon as the time is right, you flood the border [checkpoints] with 10 vehicles that are all carrying loads – and let’s say five of them get through and they don’t get picked up … five of your 10 vehicles – you’ve had a great day. You are still going to make a lot of money,” Pennal said.

The secluded areas of the Valley and mountains are why the drugs come here. Then they get distributed to other areas of the country.

“We just have the southern border, and we have the I-5 and 99 corridor. We have seclusion, and we have minimized law enforcement contact,” Pennal said. “You get way up in those mountains – you get into certain locations there is just not a lot of policemen, and that is what they want.”

So the question lingers. Would a wall help these problems enough? Will people and drugs still make it north to the Valley?

“Anytime you increase security it is going to help somewhere,” Pennal said.

The problems are obvious.

Boudreaux said, “The storyline goes with ‘illegal immigrant kills U.S citizen.’ The reality of it is we have many people in our county who are undocumented and live here without ever committing a crime.”

As the political debate continues in the nation’s Capitol, it is easy to say a lot in communities like the Central Valley will be keeping a close eye on what happens next.