In an excerpt from that program, I discussed one of the most disturbing things I saw on our voyage – a massive, 30-yard gap in a newly constructed section of the border wall located less than two kilometers southeast of Los Algodones, Mexico.
This section of the wall is in the Yuma sector – a 126-mile stretch of border which runs from the Imperial Dunes in California to the Yuma-Pima county line in Arizona. A diverse mix of desert, farmland, river, urban and suburban border territory, Yuma is one of nine sectors of America’s increasingly porous 1,954-mile border with Mexico patrolled by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
What made this particular gap in the wall so disturbing? For starters, it was located less than half a mile from everything one would need to close it – steel beams, concrete, fencing, razor wire, cable and other wall-building materials. All of these materials have been just laying on the ground – sitting in the sweltering desert sun at a government depot – for the past two-and-a-half years.
In other words, they’ve been sitting there ever since U.S. president Joe Biden signed an executive order halting construction of the wall – and declaring an end to the border crisis – on his first day in office.
A lot changed on the U.S.-Mexican border on January 20, 2021 – and none of it for the better.
In a briefing provided to our multi-state delegation earlier this month, former Yuma sector border chief (and former El Paso sector deputy chief) Chris Clem lamented the “miles and miles of cable and steel just sitting out there.”
“What was bought and paid for by the American people just sat there,” Clem told me during an interview for the Week In Review. “That steel is still sitting there that’s been bought and paid for twice already.”
“You talk about a gut punch to our agents – when they’re driving and they see this wall that’s helping them do their job and then there’s this huge gap,” Clem added.
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Clem – who has spent nearly three decades protecting the border – said the 30-yard gap southeast of Los Algodones has been a flashpoint for drug smuggling and human trafficking activity driven by Mexican cartels. And while he and others acknowledged the border wall was not a panacea to eliminating such smuggling and trafficking along the border, he did say “it slows people down.”
“It gives us the tactical advantage,” Clem said, referring to border wall systems which include both physical barriers and enhanced monitoring capabilities.
“NO OPERATIONAL CONTROL …”
In addition to criticizing the hole in the wall near Yuma, Clem spoke out against Biden’s executive order halting deportations during the first 100 days of his administration – which essentially neutered Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agents and helped spark the recent surge in illegal immigration.
“No deportations eliminated ICE’s ability to detain people,” he said.
Which eliminated a powerful disincentive to illegal immigration …
Not only did Biden refused to plug the hole in the wall – or allow ICE to do its job – he moved tax dollars away from this priority, redirecting $3.3 billion sitting in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) accounts which had been earmarked for construction of the border wall.
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The consequences of these executive actions have been catastrophic – not only as it relates to the diminishing of our national security, but also as it relates to the humanitarian crisis they have invited.
CBP agents reported 211,401 border apprehensions during the month of April 2023 – continuing a spike which began during Biden’s first months in office. Since February 2021 – Biden’s first full month as president – CBP has recorded a staggering 5.25 million border apprehensions (including a record 2.4 million during the 2022 fiscal year).
Apprehensions under Biden have averaged 194,412 per month, according to the latest data. By contrast, there were 458,088 apprehensions during Trump’s final fiscal year in office – an average of 38,174 per month.
Ready for the math? That is a stunning 409.3 percent increase.
“I’m going to pull no punches,” Clem said during a briefing in Yuma last week. “The policies of the previous administration were effective.”
Those policies “shut things down,” Clem added.
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Former U.S. president Donald Trump made border security a centerpiece of his first two presidential campaigns – most notably his heralded construction of a “big, beautiful wall.” While my news outlet has criticized Trump on multiple fronts – including his failure to consistently advance this signature monolith – the numbers do not lie. Trump’s border security policies – while not uniformly or expeditiously implemented (or always politically popular) – were successfully deterring mass illegal migration into the United States.
“We’ve had operational control of our borders in the past,” current CBP agent Job Figueroa said during a briefing at the sprawling headquarters of his agency’s Yuma Sector located just south of downtown Yuma.
The implication of that statement was clear: America does not currently have operational control of its border.
Outgoing CBP chief Raul Ortiz made that grim acknowledgment official two months ago while testifying before a U.S. House field committee investigating this crisis.
“Does DHS have operational control of our entire border?” Ortiz was asked by U.S. congressman Mark Green of Tennessee.
“No sir,” he responded.
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That statement contradicted comments previously made by Ortiz’s boss, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) secretary Alejandro Mayorkas – who has previously been debunked for claiming Biden’s administration “inherited a broken and dismantled (immigration) system” from Trump. And within months of making it, Ortiz was announcing his resignation as border chief.
While I expected a former border patrol leader like Clem to be outspoken about the deteriorating situation in Yuma sector, Figueroa surprisingly “pulled no punches,” either.
“The entire world is at our front door – and it hasn’t stopped in two years,” he said, although he quickly added those who crossed the border in Yuma sector don’t stay there long.
“What’s impacting Yuma today will be impacting your communities in about 72 hours,” he said.
Referring to media reports of migrant caravans, Figueroa bluntly noted “we see a caravan every single day.”
“THEY KEEP COMING …”
In discussing the soaring numbers of apprehensions, Figueroa pointed to 1.4 million “got-aways” who were not counted in that data. “Got-aways” refer to migrants who are detected crossing the border but are never apprehended for processing.
“They are gone,” he said. “They are in middle America.”
And obviously, neither apprehensions nor “got-aways” take into account the number of undetected illegal alien crossings at the border.
While Figueroa and his fellow agents were careful not to endorse any specific border policies, he also did not mince words as to the root problem with Biden’s approach to the situation.
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“If there’s no consequence in terms of an enforcement posture, they keep coming,” he said.
That’s right … they keep coming.
Not only does this incessant influx erode national security, it inhibits CBP’s ability to effectively patrol the border by burying agents in paperwork.
“I would love to have eighty percent of my agents actually patrolling the border and twenty percent doing paperwork and processing,” Clem said. “That was always the goal – that was really a good split for us. But when this irregular mass migration – all these illegal entries – started hitting, we went to where it was almost the complete opposite. Eighty percent of my workforce wasn’t patrolling the border, they were processing and caring for the migrants which left 20 percent trying to cover 126 miles of border.”
Clem added that “by the end of any eight-hour shift that 20 percent was sometimes down to 10 percent – or sometimes down to nothing” due to the sheer volume of migrant crossings.
At that point, state and local law enforcement have to step in to provide assistance – preventing them from responding to crime in their jurisdictions.
One thing worth noting? A common misconception is that a majority of those crossing the U.S.-Mexican border illegally are Mexican nationals. That’s actually not even close to being accurate. In the Yuma sector, Mexican nationals actually ranked No. 9 on the originating nation list of border “encounters” – with 134,655 of 145,009 migrants classified as “OTM,” or “Other Than Mexican,” according to recent FY 2023 year-to-date data for the sector.
However, drug cartels based in Mexico are responsible for the trafficking – both of illegal substances and illegal immigrants. And according to our law enforcement sources, most of these smugglers/ traffickers are either Mexican or American nationals.
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“They’re making just as much money smuggling migrants as they are smuggling drugs,” Figueroa said.
How much money?
Last summer, reporter Miriam Jordan of The New York Times cited DHS investigators as saying the movement of human beings across the border comprised “an industry whose revenues have soared to an estimated $13 billion.”
Prior to the recent surge it was less than $500 million annually. According to Figueroa, at least $2.4 billion in trafficking-related revenue was made by cartels in just one stretch of the Yuma sector last year.
“No one crosses for free,” Figueroa said. “They are all paying the cartels.”
Once again, failed American policies are driving this mass migration. A backlog of more than two million immigration cases is currently clogging our court system – giving each “asylum seeker” an average of more than four years before their case is heard. In other words, border-crossers are essentially guaranteed forty-eight months in the United States before a judge even hears their case.
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“For thirty days, I’m not going to risk it,” Clem said. “For four years? I might risk it.”
Hundreds of thousands are risking it … but not all of them are making it across the border alive.
“You find dead children, you find dead adults,” Figueroa said, lamenting “the innocence of the children we see day-in, day-out.”
A CBP security video played during our briefing showed a one-year-old child being smuggled across the border at the Morelos Dam near Los Algodones. While we were not allowed to play the video for our audience, it depicted a smuggler just leaving this child on a slab of concrete on the America side of the structure before hastily retreating back across the border.
Clem also told the story of four migrant children – aged 7, 5, 3 and 1 – who crossed the border in a remote section of Yuma County.
“I don’t know which one of them was watching out for that one-year-old,” Clem told us. “If our pilot hadn’t have spotted them, they would all be dead.”
“It takes longer to get to these (humanitarian) calls because the agents are tied up with processing,” Figueroa said.
“FENTANYL IS KILLING US …”
During a separate briefing by local political and law enforcement leaders in Yuma, the dimensions of the deepening drug crisis were discussed in further detail.
According to Yuma sheriff Leon Wilmot, 51 percent of the fentanyl entering the United States is coming across the Arizona border. During the first quarter of the current fiscal year, Wilmot said approximately 24.3 million pills and 877 kilograms of fentanyl was seized in the state.
As this news outlet reported just last month, fentanyl deaths in the United States have nearly quadrupled from 2016-2021, soaring from 5.7 per 100,000 citizens in 2016 to 21.6 per 100,000 citizens in 2021.
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“We know, throughout this country, over 100,000 people are dying each and every year now because of fentanyl,” Wilmot said.
According to the sheriff, the fentanyl currently coming across the border is increasingly laced with xylazine – a.k.a. “Tranq” – an equine tranquilizer which is impervious to the administration of life-saving naloxone (a.k.a. “Narcan”) spray.
“The cartels are further exploiting this,” Wilmot said. “Once they lace fentanyl with this narcotic that’s used on horses, Narcan no longer works – so we’re not going to be able to save lives anymore.”
Figueroa agreed – noting a seizure of “60 keys of fentanyl” by his agents on the morning of our briefing.
“Fentanyl is killing us,” he said, citing a staggering 1,321 percent increase in seizures by his agents since the recent crisis began.
On the day we left the Yuma sector, troopers with the Arizona Department of Public Safety (AZDPS) initiated a traffic stop on a Honda Accord traveling northbound on Interstate 19 near Amado, Arizona. A lawful search of the vehicle revealed a staggering 229.8 pounds of fentanyl pills and 9.65 pounds of cocaine hidden within the vehicle.
According to AZDPS, “the drugs were being smuggled from Sonora, Mexico, to Phoenix, Arizona.”
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Cartels have become incredibly adept at trafficking fentanyl, moving it through underground tunnels and via aerial drones with GPS-to-GPS connectivity. Cartel violence related to the trafficking has also spilled over into America, with so-called “rip crews” battling each other at key access points along the American interstate system.
“Rival cartels hang out near Interstate 8,” Figueroa said. “They kill smugglers and mules and take their dope.”
What is the Biden administration doing about this escalating crisis? On March 24, 2021, the president tapped his second-in-command – vice president Kamala Harris – to lead America’s efforts in “stemming the migration to our southern border.”
“She’s the most qualified person to do it,” Biden said at the time.
Harris has visited the border just once since taking office, however, and has been pilloried by Republicans for her aloofness in the face of the worsening invasion. Harris has also been blasted by the National Border Patrol Council (NBPC), a union which represents border patrol agents. This group recently blasted her as a “clown” on social media, and referred to the Biden administration as the “most corrupt administration in U.S. history.”
Another common misperception is that America’s immigration debate is purely Republican versus Democrat. Increasingly, though, that’s not the case. Democratic senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio – all of whom are up for reelection in 2024 – have broken with Biden on the issue within the past month.
“You have to see it with your own eyes,” Kennedy said.
That much is for sure …
As promised, my news outlet will continue to investigate the crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border. In the coming weeks, look for additional reports on the current surge in illegal mass migration – but also look for reports on the vital role legal migration plays in our economy (especially the American agricultural industry). Also, look for this news outlet to continue working to identify and articulate specific policy planks aimed at restoring some semblance of a coherent border security strategy.
Finally, as I noted in the conclusion to our Week In Review episode, this news outlet’s open microphone policy invites anyone with an intelligent take on this issue – from any perspective – to address our audience.
I look forward to sharing as many of those perspectives as possible in the coming weeks …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children.
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