Border Patrol Grappling with Immigrant Surge Love Trump's Wall

Justin Castrejon
U.S. Border Patrol Public Information Officer Justin Castrejon (PHOTO CREDIT: ALEX J. ROUHANDEH)

During the month of February, the United States experienced a 28% increase in attempted crossings at the Southwest border. Of the more than 100,000 people who attempted to cross the border, nearly 30,000 were unaccompanied children.

Newsweek got an inside look at the state of the U.S.-Mexico border through the eyes of Public Affairs Officers Justin Castrejon and Jacob MacIsaac of the U.S. Border Patrol.

Border Fence Colonia Libertad
Colonia Libertad, known colloquially as the “soccer field.” at the U.S. border in San Diego (PHOTO CREDIT: ALEX J. ROUHANDEH)

The tour began at Colonia Libertad, known as the "soccer field" (pictured at right). During the peak of illegal crossing during the 1980s, the "soccer field" served as a gathering place for individuals starting their trek. It was as an easy gateway into the U.S., given the ease through which migrants could cross the area's border fence.

By day, the area hosted cookouts, vendors, and games of soccer. By night, the area emptied out as crossers began their journey through the surrounding hills, hoping to evade patrol officers in the brush-filled canyons. Today, the area is relatively quiet. "I think (the wall) has made us more effective," MacIsaac said. "It's made the job more manageable."

Jacob Macisaac
U.S. Border Patrol Public Information Officer Jacob MacIsaac (PHOTO CREDIT: ALEX J. ROUHANDEH)
U.S. Border old fence
The old fence at the U.S. border in San Diego (PHOTO CREDIT: ALEX J. ROUHANDEH)

Prior to the 2018 building of the border wall under President Trump, portions of the San Diego border were secured by sections of barbed-wire and mesh fence (pictured below). The horizontal nature of this style of fence made it more conducive to climbing, MacIsaac told Newsweek. When it was first constructed, this style of fence did not feature the barbed-wire now seen at its top.

US Border Tijuana River
The Tijuana River at the U.S. Border in San Diego (PHOTO CREDIT: ALEX J. ROUHANDEH)
Storm Drain at the U.S. Border
Storm Drain at the U.S. border in San Diego (PHOTO CREDIT: ALEX J. ROUHANDEH)

Newsweek's visit to the border occurred during a rare San Diego rain. During dry portions of the year, the Tijuana River (seen below), holds a depth comparable to a shallow stream. However, during rainfall, it can become waist deep. The river's proximity to Mexico's deteriorating sewage treatment facilities have resulted in the river's transformation into a dumping site. Following rainfall, when runoff causes toxicity levels to climb, MacIsaac says the river becomes a place for immigrant smugglers to "exploit."

To prevent flooding in Tijuana, the United States must open its storm drains (seen below). MacIsaac said these drains become avenues through which illegal immigration takes place. Some of the children who entered this country alone came through these very drains. The height of the border wall has made underground tunnels a viable avenue for illegal crossing. When the drains are not an option, immigrants have crossed over through tunneling under the four foot-deep of wall below the surface.

MacIsaac says the border patrol uncovered one tunnel this fiscal year and six during the last fiscal year. He said the soil type in San Diego makes these tunnels less prone to erosion. He added that Mexican authorities have been an effective partner in combating these efforts. "We've gotten a lot better about working together," he said.

Fence pano
The wall at the U.S. border (PHOTO CREDIT: ALEX J. ROUHANDEH)

Despite tunneling efforts, the border wall's four-foot below-ground depth and 18 to 30 foot above-ground height have been effective in managing the border. Because, as MacIsaac puts it, "it's afforded us the luxury of time." However, what the wall has also brought patrol officers is the luxury of infrastructure to manage scaling the border's vast hills and canyons (pictured on the left).

Prior to the building of the wall, the paved roads seen in that photo (above left) looked more like a dirt path (pictured below right). Scaling the hills and canyons surrounding the border could take as long as 45 minutes, MacIsaac said. But beyond the lack of infrastructure's cost to time, it also proved to be a hazard to safety.

U.S. Border Fence funky dirt road
An unimproved road used by the U.S. Border Patrol prior to the building of the wall (PHOTO CREDIT: ALEX J. ROUHANDEH)

The memorial pictured (below left) pays tribute to Border Patrol Agent Catherine Hill. She died in the line of duty 2002 after her vehicle rolled over the edge of a 40-foot cliff. Hill's story reminds agents like MacIsaac to be appreciative of the areas newly constructed infrastructure. "It's just as important [as the wall]," he says.

Memorial to border patrol agent (reduced 50%)
A memorial to U.S. Border Patrol Agent Catherine Hill, who died in the line of duty in 2002 (PHOTO CREDIT: ALEX J. ROUHANDEH)
Fence Gate Tower
U.S. Border fence at Friendship Park, San Diego (PHOTO CREDIT: ALEX J. ROUHANDEH)

Nearing the edge of the coast, the tour made a stop at Friendship Park (pictured below right). The now-restricted site once served as a place for loved ones divided by the border to come and visit. For most individuals the site served as a place solely for social gatherings.

However, Castrejon says the border patrol soon noticed items, including drugs, being passed through the fence. This resulted in a reinforcement of the metal slats of the fence. Upon this modification, tension at the site settled, until an American groom and a Mexican bride decided to recite their marital vows there. The Border patrol later discovered the groom to be a known smuggler, This incident, together with the pandemic, led to the closing of the park.

"The optics were bad," Castrejon said.

About 300 feet from the park, the tour ended at the Pacific Ocean. With the wall extending far offshore (photo below), the area may be a place less pervious to scaling, yet it's a spot no less fraught with activity.

Boats regularly pass through the area to smuggle immigrants through various ports along the California coast.

As the border patrol office positioned closest to the Pacific, the San Diego sector is tasked with protecting 931 miles of the coastal U.S. border from this beach to north of Oregon.

As with their work along the land border, the officers said the San Diego sector will continue to work to secure these areas as it works to fulfill its mission to "protect the American people, safeguard our borders, and enhance the nation's economic prosperity."

U.S. Border fence in Pacific Ocean
The U.S. Border wall in San Diego extends into the Pacific Ocean (PHOTO CREDIT: ALEX J. ROUHANDEH)