The debate over the Texas border wall

HUDSPETH COUNTY, Texas – In Hudspeth County, Sheriff Arvin West has been a vocal critic of changing policies regarding border security. West has been the sheriff in Hudspeth County for 18 years. The county is about 90 miles east of El Paso.

“Day in, day out, what's your biggest problem here?” asked Channel 2 Investigator Robert Arnold. 

“The crap coming off the interstate or coming from Mexico,” said West.

West is primarily talking about the drugs piled high in a pair of the Sheriff’s Office’s evidence rooms. 

“Meth, heroin, marijuana, cocaine,” said West. “We do, on average, seven to 10 cases a shift.”

The sheriff’s evidence rooms are filled with boxes stemming from cases made by his deputies and even more made by Border Patrol agents working along the river and at a checkpoint along Interstate 10.
There are fewer than 4,000 people in Hudspeth County, but the 120-bed county jail remains near capacity.

“How many people in your jail are locals?” asked Arnold. 

“Well, technically I have two locals, but they're not from this county,” said West.

KPRC spoke with one prisoner who said he moved to Hudspeth County for a drug rehabilitation program. West said he was caught dealing meth brought over from Mexico.

“I went back to doing what I knew how to do best,” said Pedro Saenz. “Most of the people are going for heroin, meth, whatever is small and make more money.”

“And you have no trouble getting any of that across?” asked Arnold.

“No,” said Saenz.

A nearby privately run federal detention center with the capacity to house 1,354 prisoners also stays busy.

“We’ve got a little bit of everything. We’ve got cartel,” said Warden Mike Sheppard. “We got India, Brazil, we've had Russia, we've had Iran.”

The Department of Homeland Security reported that last fiscal year, the number of people caught illegally crossing the border dropped to a record low. West said he has noticed the decrease in his area, but that is changing.

DHS reports the number of people caught illegally crossing the border went up in the first three months of this fiscal year.

“Let's put it this way: Trump spooked them, but he didn't scare them,” said West.

Hudspeth County has 98 miles of rocky terrain that lines the border. There are 7 miles of border fence constructed in the area. This portion of the fence was built when President George W. Bush was in office. Much of the fence runs near points of entry from Mexico; however, there are stretches running in more remote areas.

KPRC visited one spot where a stretch of the fence ends. Deputy Robert Newman said the portion of the fence built in this spot did help stop smugglers from simply driving people and drugs across the river, but it didn’t stop the smuggling.

“It essentially shifted everything?” asked Arnold.

“Correct,” said Newman. 

West is not certain a wall will help without more manpower to patrol the miles of desolate spots that make up the county. 

“If you don't put people on the river, it's still going to be wide open,” said West.

Plus, West wants to know if a wall is built, what will happen with four structures that span the river. These narrow metal structures, with handrails, allow someone to walk across the river. When KPRC visited one of these structures we saw no gates, locks or even a "no trespassing" sign. West said these structures have been used to smuggle people and drugs into the U.S.

Federal officials are quick to point out these are not “bridges.” Officials with the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission tell KPRC these are grade control structures. IBWC officials said these structures were built in the 1930s as part of a treaty with Mexico. IBWC officials said they help prevent river bed degradation and at one time were used to place stoplogs to control the river’s level and to divert water to either country for irrigation.

IBWC officials said both countries have to agree on removing the structures.

Officials with Customs and Border Protection tell KPRC agents keep close watch on these areas through “high visibility” patrols and through the use of ground sensors. CBP officials said agents also use “sign cutting” to watch for indications these structures are being used to illegally cross into the US.

West said he doesn’t see the point of keeping these structures

“You've asked for those bridges to be gone?” asked Arnold. 

“I've offered to cut the damn things down,” said West. 

More on the wall

Channel 2 Investigates recently traveled to a rural county in West Texas to speak with a sheriff who has long dealt with issues arising from his area’s proximity to the border.

With President Donald Trump continuing to seek funding for construction of a border wall, KPRC 2 takes a look at some of the terrain where a wall could be built and hears whether this sheriff feels a wall will help dampen border security concerns.

DRONE VIDEO of border wall prototypes

How Much Will A Border Wall Cost?

While estimates have widely varied since President Trump first announced his intentions to build a border wall, the latest estimates place the cost of a wall at $18 billion.

That number is only an estimate.

TIME-LAPSE VIDEO of construction of border wall prototypes

How much of a border fence has already been built?

Construction of a border fence began under President George W. Bush. According to Customs and Border Protection, 705 miles of vehicle and pedestrian fencing has been built. Just over 132 miles of fence was constructed in Texas. The largest portion of the fence is 325 miles in Arizona. The southern border is approximately 1,900 miles long.

VIDEO: Construction of border wall prototypes

Does the government have a type of wall in mind?

Under a presidential executive order issued in January 2017, Customs and Border Protection began accepting proposals for border wall prototypes. You can read the president’s order here.

In October, construction was complete on eight prototypes. Six companies constructed these prototypes, including Houston-based Texas Sterling Construction.

CBP is currently evaluating these prototypes for anti-breaching, anti-climbing, anti-digging, impedance and denial of traffic and whether the structures are safe for agents. 

VIDEO: Completed prototypes of border wall