DONNA, Texas (Border Report) — The head of the Department of Homeland Security visited the new border wall going up south of Donna, Texas, on Thursday afternoon and declared after a tour that “walls work.”
Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf also said that he “welcome all efforts to help secure the border as long as they’re done in concert with the men and women at the Border Patrol,” in reaction to a question by Border Report on land being cleared a few miles away by a private nonprofit advocacy group that has said it wants to build its own wall on private, river-front land.
Wolf’s comments endorsing the idea that more wall is better — whether built by the government or not — echos similar comments he made the day before in El Paso.
And just as he did on Wednesday, he called the border wall a “game-changer” and said the structure — all 110 miles planned for the Rio Grande Valley sector — will help U.S. Border Patrol agents to do their jobs better.
He said that the border wall, coupled with new immigration policies — such as Migrant Protection Protocols program (MPP) and metering, are “a morale booster” for Border Patrol agents who are now spending less time caring for asylum-seeking migrants. “This is what they are supposed to do: Secure our border.”
MPP requires migrants to wait in Mexico during their asylum proceedings; metering is a program that only allows so many Mexican nationals to cross a port of entry on any given day to seek asylum.
Wolf said these “new strategies” are deterring migrants from coming across the Southwest border, which he says has had a dramatic decrease in apprehensions since the height of the recent migrant surge last May.
“Agents and officers I talked to here today in the RGV are praising MPP and indicating it is a game-changer in helping to address this crisis,” Wolf said. “Because of our progress in solving the humanitarian crisis, CBP and ICE are able to reduce the number of agents performing humanitarian duties and return these professionals to the field to secure our border against dangerous threats.”
He added that the building of the border wall is but a piece in the arsenal that the federal government plans to unleash to deter human and drug traffickers and smugglers.
The Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector, which spans from Falcon to Brownsville, Texas, has had the most migrant apprehensions year after year on the entire Southwest Border since the surge first began in 2014. The sector also has the most Marijuana seizures.
$26 million a mile
Wolf spoke to a dozen media using the few erected panels of a new 18-foot-tall metal wall as a backdrop. This new section is being built on federal land a half-mile from the Rio Grande in this largely agricultural community just a couple miles from the Donna International Bridge. The average cost per mile to build the wall is expected to be $26 million.
Construction workers operated heavy equipment and pounded away at the structure despite a stiff Gulf Coast wind on Thursday afternoon. Workers began clearing the land a few weeks ago and quickly laid the concrete foundation and have now put in the first metal bollard panels.
These are the first new border wall panels built in South Texas. And they will be followed by many more, Wolf promised.
A total of 110 miles of border wall is slated to be built in the RGV Sector, he said. That will add to the 83 new miles of border wall built on the Southwest border, so far, Wolf said. A total of 153 miles are currently in progress and he promised up to 500 miles of “new border wall” will be built by the end of 2020.
Wolf stipulated that these are “new border wall” sections; and he negated what he called were “misconceptions” by some in Washington, D.C., that the new panels don’t constitute “new” border walls.
Starr County is next
As she gave Wolf a tour of the construction site, Carmen Qualia, Border Patrol assistant chief patrol agent for the RGV Sector, told him that next week wall panels will begin going up to the east in Starr County, which has never before had any border wall.
“No one disputes that we should give the men and women in the military the best equipment to keep them safe and our country safe. So why should things be any different for the men and women of the Border Patrol who are protecting our homeland? They put their lives on the line every day. It’s our responsibility to give them the tools, equipment they need to do their job,” Wolf said.
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.