U.S. Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott visited the South Texas town of McAllen on Oct. 29, 2020, to commemorate the completion of the 400th mile of newly built border wall. At the time, he sat down with Border Report’s Sandra Sanchez for a one-on-one interview and discussed the agency’s changing policies, change in migrants crossing the border and how the border wall assists agents.
Q: This is the 400th mile of border wall. What is the significance of the 400th mile of border wall being completed here?
A: It’s very, very significant. I would argue that the reason that (the Rio Grande Valley) has had the most apprehensions in the nation has been successes in building out border wall infrastructure and our entire strategy in other sectors. We have a tendency to have a short memory, but San Diego was a flashpoint back in the 90s, then El Centro, then Tucson. We’ve been building out this border wall system and the border wall strategy to secure the border to create operational control of the border from multiple administrations, but we never had this much infrastructure and this much investment from Congress and the administration in the past. So it’s very important and as we stated before: Every mile of border wall system allows the agents who are out here everyday to cover more area and you’re going to see the same thing here in RGV. It’s very critical.
Q: You mentioned it’s not just the wall, it’s the 150-foot enforcement zone and flood lights and infrared lights and linear ground technology, right?
A: It’s the whole thing so when we say wall system, and I apologize because I even sometimes just say ‘wall’ and I shouldn’t, it’s a wall system. It’s not just a physical barrier. It’s exactly that. It’s the access roads. It’s the technology. It’s the lighting. It’s that mix that allows us to effectively operate.
Q: There is 5-foot anti-climb plate at the top and this wall is painted special. There are some design changes throughout the border, right? Some places I visited recently in Arizona have wider gaps in between the slats and some movable gates in the San Pedro River. Are you all adapting additional design changes as you move from sector to sector?
A: Yes we are. We forget about the prototypes that didn’t happen that long ago. Prior to the prototype project we did in San Diego, all border wall infrastructure was really created by Border Patrol agents. I don’t mean physically built, although the original landing mat was built by Border Patrol agents and the National Guard helped. But over the years we have fine-tuned our own designs. We have done trial and error and we came up with some really good solid concepts. But when we did the prototypes this is the first time we’ve ever gone out to Corporate America and said, ‘Hey how can we do this smarter and cheaper on a bigger scale?’ We’ve learned a lot of lessons from that and we have created what we call a tool box of attributes and that tool box will change based on the specific area.
You also talked about specific environmental concerns: flood plain concerns, those are always addressed and those are separate from some of the things we learned just in the prototype process, which was more the endurance and how long it takes to cut through things and how hard it is to climb over.
Q: In Starr County, which has walls slated but doesn’t necessarily have a lot of walls put up yet, is it possible that some of these movable gates or wider gaps will be implemented there?
A: Anything is definitely possible. Every year we go through a systematic threat assessment nationwide. There’s 20 different sector chiefs, nine on the Southwest border, and we decide where we are going to use the resources that Congress has given us both long-term and short term. So the short answer is: Yes it will always been considered but what is the immediate impact and how do we apply it? The removable or mobile wall, like in Yuma, Arizona, where we had the floatable fence, every area is a little bit unique. But even if it’s temporary we still take the environmental concerns into place, the flood plain concerns into consideration.
Q: In Arizona, I saw some mountains being blown up and some people asked why we don’t just cede the mountains to Mexico. What do you say to that? Are you going to continue to build?
A: We look at every one of these projects with the Army Corps of Engineers as individual projects. We look at the threat in the area. A lot of people talk about ‘flow’ and it’s not just flow. Some areas in Arizona uniquely when a lot of people videotape they tape looking north and it’s pretty wide open and very environmentally sensitive areas. But if you look south, less than 100 yards there’s a major highway in Mexico called Highway 2 and it’s all what we call drivable terrain. You could take a Prius and turn north off that highway and make it through the desert. Those areas it’s very important to us that we lock those down.
But there’s also second-layer and third-layer effects we have to look at. If we lock down a big section of driveable terrain that then pushes the traffic. Those smugglers don’t want to go away. They want to go anywhere they can to get through that area and sometimes that would push them into very environmentally or culturally-sensitive areas. We believe that it is worth it to take away a few feet right on the border to secure that area to protect all that environmentally sensitive area to the north.
I use San Diego as an example and there’s an area called Borderfield State Park and the Tijuana Estuary. Once we built the border infrastructure there and locked it down, that entire sensitive estuary with multiple endangered species started coming back. It rebounded and all of a sudden I heard that there’s coyotes out there, which hadn’t been for years, which means that whole eco-chain is coming back.
Q: There have been a tremendous number of stash houses and stash house arrests here in South Texas. Do you think smugglers are having to utilize these stash houses more because they don’t have an open border to run through?
A: Yes, we are seeing the groups brought across. They can’t come across in large groups. Every mile, every foot of border wall built allows an agent to patrol a larger area more effectively. That’s freeing up additional agents to work our checkpoints, to work our task forces to identify those stash houses. But it’s also taking away the smugglers’ abilities to bring through large groups of people. So they’re having to bring people over one, two, three at a time and trying to hide. I’ve never argued that it’s completely impenetrable but you’re not going to bring 20 or 30 people through. You might sneak one over at a time then what are you going to do with them? To make money for the cartels they want to move massive amounts of people so they’ve been basically backing them up, that’s the term we would use, putting them in stash houses. We have heard for as long as 30 days and then trying to get them north. Well, we have shifted a bunch of Customs and Border Protection officers to our checkpoints and here to the Valley, that used to be assigned airport duties and will again once this COVID crisis slows down, but we freed up resources we assigned them down here.
It’s harder and harder to get through our checkpoints. The reason you are seeing tractor-trailers with 30-40 or 100 illegal aliens in them being ceased at our checkpoints is because we have a chance to inspect more of them and we’re going to continue to ramp that up. That takes that away from the smugglers, now they’re talking one or two in a car and then that continues to backup. We work with state and locals and we ask the community: ‘See something, say something’ still exists. If you see smugglers or you see a stash house give us a holler. There are a lot of law-abiding citizens who will understand what border security really means in this community and we thank them and we get a lot of tips. All that results in us taking down more stash houses.
Some recent stash house arrests in South Texas are seen in these photos supplied by Border Patrol.
Q: Acting Homeland Secretary Chad Wolf mentioned it might be on an individual community basis that the Title 42 border travel restrictions are lifted. So, what kind of contingency plans, how are your agents working with local communities?
A: We constantly communicate with local communities. The travel restrictions are much more applicable to the ports of entry, my partners in blue at Customs and Border Protection officers, but what happens there definitely affects what happens in between the ports of entry, as well. We are looking at it. I remind people CBP was in a much better position when COVID hit, because we’re constantly dealing with people from around the world. About 155 different countries last year we arrested people from with different diseases, different issues, so we have a plethora of PPE. We have procedures already in place.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.