A barrier might not affect the illegal narcotics trade as intended. For one, illegal drugs usually come in through ports of entry. Sanho Tree, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies who focuses on drug policies and the border, also expressed concerns about drug traffickers shifting to fentanyl, a potent synthetic drug, if confronted with counter-measures, like a wall.
“It’s a simple market response, it’s what’s happening already, which is to say that traffickers will take whatever heroin can get through and stretch their profits by adulterating it with even more fentanyl, which is much cheaper, much easier to smuggle and its analogues are more compact and more potent and more deadly,” Tree said. “As a result, if the wall does work as advertised, I think you’ll see people dropping like flies at a much higher rate than we have now.”
A wall isn’t the sum of Trump’s vision for border security—he has also called for an increase the number of border patrol agents—though it serves as an important component. “The wall is a deterrent and the wall is the first element on that system that those who are trying to come in get to see and have to navigate,” Diaz said. “It slows people down.”
This week, the agency posted a video on Twitter highlighting a decline in border apprehensions across sectors on the U.S.-Mexico border, which CBP attributed to infrastructure, technology, and agents. For example, the San Diego sector, where the prototypes have been built, dropped from 560,000 in 1992 to 68,000 in 2010. Notably, however, the number of border apprehensions is also on the decline. Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly noted this in his testimony before a Senate committee earlier this year, saying that CBP has seen a “sharp decline in apprehensions.”
The review process, which will get underway after the concrete cures, will span 30 to 60 days. “Right now, what we’re focusing [on] is seeing how those prototypes work and if the designs are going to be feasible and how they hold up against the requirements that we provided in the RFP, which includes anti-dig, anti-climb, and anti-breach, and other capabilities,” Diaz told me, referring to the agency’s proposals. He added that CBP could choose one of the designs, all or several of them, features to create a hybrid, or discard them altogether.
The reason behind the use of several designs along the southern border is a result of the different types of terrain. In remote areas, with difficult topography, erecting a wall may not be feasible, said David Aguilar, the former deputy commissioner of CBP who now works at Global Security and Innovative Strategies. He added that urban areas, on the other hand, often need a barrier, as a result of increased activity. See-through barriers are also generally preferred by border patrol agents because they allow agents to see what’s happening on the other side. Two of the prototypes fall under this category.