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America's Wall

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November 13, 2017 1:22 p.m.

America's Wall


Paola Avila, vice president, international business affairs, San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce

Thomas Homan, acting director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Jean Guerrero, Fronteras reporter, KPBS News

Leo Castaneda, reporter and economic analyst, inewsource

Related Story: America's Wall


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

President Donald Trump wants to build a wall but what is the state in history of America's wall? This is KPBS Midday Edition. Our focus is on America's wall. It's been caught test called barricades and gates and fillers. We have developed the interactive map of the border wall. We will hear profiles of people affected by the wall and discussed what we learned to block the border wall President Trump's plan for a taller wall continues to take shape. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. KPBS Midday Edition is next.The existing barriers along the US-Mexico border make up America's wall. Today are special coverage focuses on the wall. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. It is Monday, November 13. The Trump administration is preparing to build a wall along the US-Mexico border . What about the existing wall? Have the barriers and fences taught us anything for the future? We obtain government records detailing those barriers and their impact over time. Jean Guerrero has more.There was America's wall before Donald Trump's wall.We have strengthened border security.The Clinton Bush and Obama Administration built 97% of America's wall. In some places it has helicopter landing mats. The wall stretches for 653 miles but it still covers less than half of the border. Trump promised to build an intangible wall.We will have strong borders and build a wall and it's going to be built.Reporter: --KPBS teamed up to find out has the wall been doing its job of reducing illegal immigration and drug trafficking? We were able to layer data over time with records of traffic. Our data shows a pattern. Overtime America's wall has reduced smuggling but it has shifted the flows elsewhere into gaps between the barriers into the ocean in the sky and even underground. David of the University of San Diego studies smuggling.The wall ensures that there will be ever more creative ways of getting around it.San Diego doubled their fencing in the 90s and as a result, and the neighboring sector the share of apprehensions was 500%. A stronger taller wall will be vulnerable.It's like a giant game. They Waccamaw over here and they pop up over here.They have used ramps and taller ladders to get over the fence. Joshua Wilson says a stronger wall will help.Every layer is secure. It allows us the ability to more effectively interject them.There are areas of the wall does not address at all. The ocean is one of them.We've had people swim across, jet ski.Apprehensions in the Pacific Ocean rose 74%. The records show that when fence construction sped up, so did titling. There found sophisticated titles with at of dollars -- with elevators. This summer border patrol sector cop their first drone caring 13 pounds of methamphetamine. It truly will cost more than the U.S. can afford.There is no cost-efficient way to build a wall that will achieve our goals.It costs about $7 million to build. It ranges from $12 billion to more than $20 billion. Researchers believe that unless Trump can address the natural gaps in the wall, the patterns in history will repeat. Jean Guerrero, kpbs news.It is a collaboration with iNEWSOURCE. over the course of this our we will bring you perspectives from both sides of the debate. We start with Joshua Wilson vice president of the San Diego chapter of the national border patrol.We don't have fences or borders because we like people on the other side of it, we have the because we love the people that are on this side of it. The fencing is in enhancing -- enhancement to agency safety. Every agent I know comes to work every single day with the intent on protecting their community. We face all types of threats from the south side. Smuggling cartels that smuggle aliens are the exact same people that smuggle narcotics and they are very heavily armed. We will go ahead and drive really slow along the border and look for any evidence that anyone has crossed this road and if we find any signs, we will follow it.A lot of beauty in the desert.There are days where you are terrified. There are some days that you are trying to fight the boredom and get to the shift. Working with the border to Perl -- patrol you are providing safety. We have lots of people that crossed the border that have prior convictions in the U.S. for crimes ranging from drug offenses to murder. You will generally work with the sun in your face and then if you detect the injury, then you call it in and start following it. I've always had the desire to be in law enforcement. I was in the U.S. Army and protecting my country and being a part of that has always motivated me. I love my work and I love what I do. I know I have a purpose every day in the best days for me are the days when I arrest someone and we process them and run their fingerprints and I find out that that person was a really bad guy. No barrier is the be-all and all. It allows us time to interject to cash it acts as a speedbump. There are areas right now that really needs some sort of barrier whether it is fencing or a wall. There are areas that are virtually -- and they create these pathways for people to come into the country illegally and people whose purposes are unknown. This is absolutely necessary. Any country that is not protecting their country is not doing a very good job.For another voice on immigration enforcement at the border in January 2017 President Donald Trump appointed Thomas to serve as acting director of the U.S. immigration and customs enforcement. He has led Isis effort to find and deport people living in the U.S. illegally. He has three decades of experience in immigration enforcement including in San Diego. Here is the interview.U.S. government data about illegal cross-border tunnels show a spike when the U.S. Mexico border was built along the San Diego Mexico border. Do you think it is reasonable to conclude if the border wall goes up, more titles will be built?That's really a question for the California border patrol. We have to see what the final model looks like. We discovered 30 tunnels over there. San Diego is known for that. We have arrested a lot of people and have seized a lot of drugs. I made a comment that -- people say you still need a wall. Yes, we do. The walls work. It worked in Arizona and El Paso. We have proved that it worked. Why would we not want to invest in it? Every time we come up as something, they try to find their way around it.There's been a lot said about the perception that a border wall would make a ship with Mexico and how it looks for the reputation of the U.S. as a haven for immigrants. What positive aspects do you see?I think the border wall's have worked wherever they been dealt. Wherever they put that border wall, it really helped. Every place they have built a wall it had a tremendous impact on the illegal border crossings. I think it is worth the investment and I think it is wise -- I guess the question is how much money is too much to protect our country. We should be the right to do it -- we should have the right to do it. I think the border pole is in the right -- patrol is in the right position.How do you think it's going to impact Isis mission?It depends. If you believe 11 million people in this country -- we have plenty of work to do here. Were going to keep our focus on the people in the interior. We will continue on concentrate on the threats but we will going to enforce the walls also. If you have a problem -- the either protester officers or protests what we do. If you don't like what we do, talk to your Senator and Congressman and tell them to change our job. Congress has done that and they created laws and I don't think any congressman want to spend their time enacting laws for us to ignore them. I think what we are doing is the right thing to do. I think he makes great decisions when it comes to national security.I've been speaking with acting director Thomas and thank you for your time.Thank you.We did reach out to two of San Diego's congressional representatives for interviews about the border wall. Neither responded to repeated requests.Coming up the impact of the border wall on two very different border watches. It is 12:19 PM and you are listening to KPBS Midday Edition .This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Our special coverage on America's wall continues with a focus on some of the people who will be most affected if the wall changes. Jean Guerrero takes us to Boulevard NE San Diego county where a retired mechanic wonders if his vigilante days are over.Bob is looking for footprints and other signs of trespassers. He is 78 with blue eyes and silver hair and not as strong as he used to be but he will not let that stop them.It is my duty to protect my country.He lives next to US-Mexico border fence. He's carrying a rifle and wears a bullet proof vest as he walks his property.Yes, I am a vigilante. They are people that enforcing the law because of lack of law enforcement.He walks his property with his dogs. It's about 100 degrees out. This is the area where he was nearly killed when he was shot out -- shot at. He inspects a chain-link fence in front of the original border fence. He built it for extra security because the government fence is so easy to climb. His fences taller with barbed wire. It often gets cut by smugglers anyway.Over the years my wife and I spent about $20,000 in fence repair and property repair because of these people.He dreamt of being a Marine but then a pretty brunette strolled his heart. He shows me a picture of her.She would've had a nervous breakdown.He stayed in town and started auto part distance. -- Business. His wife died last year.The day that she died, she told me to get on my -- with my life.For the most part it is quiet out here now. Illegal immigration has slowed and it's been years since he caught large groups of people crossing the border. Operation gatekeeper started. That's when they began their first major border fence project. Illegal immigration was rerouted into his backyard were it is remote and they seek help from cartels.Before that operation it was wonderful. After operation gatekeeper that's when the cartels got involved in bringing people out from Tijuana, Tecate out here.Maupin said if they had built a strong wall in the first place none of this would've happened.If we get a wall like they built it Israel, I probably will not have to wear a bullet proof vest.He's rooting for Trump's wall but it looks unlikely. Trump has shifted the focus. So for now he will continue to stand guard at the border.I'm going to die and I don't care how except I'm not going to die a old man in a rest home pushing a walker.Jean Guerrero, kpbs news.Another man in San Diego county has also spent a great deal of time looking for illegal crossers into the U.S. For a very different reason. Jean Guerrero brings us the story of a farmworker who dedicates his free time to searching for migrants who go missing.Ely Ortiz is searching for signs of the dead. He is in the stretch in the Arizona desert. There is just a barrier created by nature. It stop people from coming to killing hundreds each year.Drink water.The farmworker has 20 volunteers and suddenly they stop. The hot desert breeze is bringing a smell. Despite his frequent encounters with death, -- swept drips from his face. -- sweat Drips from his face.He created Eagles of the desert to find missing migrants.I received a call from a mother crying begging me for help. That's when my soul breaks and I said I have to do this because if I don't, who is going to?They are made up of farmworkers and construction workers mostly immigrants based in San Diego. They drive hours. He started the group after fighting the body of his own brother. He died of trying to cross the border illegally in 2009.All ambition for having things I stopped having desires to be somebody and I wanted to dedicate my life to help people who suffer.He blames U.S. border fence construction for the death of his brother and thousands of other people. The U.S. government implemented operation gatekeeper. Dozens of miles of steel gates around San Diego rerouted migrant traffic into desert areas like this one.The U.S. with the policies how many deaths does it cost?The fencing that went up in the 90s Trump's wall could push them into dangerous areas something he says is inhumaneThe wall is a way of saying you are inferior to me and here I am marking my territory.Often it leads him straight to the missing. The wind carries the smell of the dead. If Coyotes had torn a body apart, he finds skeletal war remains. -- Skeletal remains. The volunteers do not find bows. He thinks the medical examiner might have picked up the body.They find an identification from El Salvador. Stack of letters are near the identification.I love you so much Francisco, my love.The letters are from the man's girlfriend or wife. He shakes his head in full to the letters. A man to his grieving family. Jean Guerrero, kpbs news.The effort to build a higher, longer, stronger border wall between the U.S. and Mexico has been debated unpredictable lines except in the case of the San Diego business community. The Chamber of Commerce is a conservative organization, which supports Republican candidates but when it comes to the construction of a border wall which could impact cross-border trade they are not enthusiastic. Joining me is vice president of international business affairs with the San Diego regional chambers of commerce. Welcome to the show.Thank you.What is the official position on President Trump's border wall.We don't think it is a legal term and it is a misdirection of taxpayer funding.What is your concern on the impact on our economy?The wall is much more than just the physical structure. It is a simple. The purpose and message that it carries is a anti-immigrant, anti-trade message.So it is the symbolism of the construction of the wall that we are most concerned with because of the message it is sending. It is a message that has not been well received. We have are ready seeing that.I want to take you back to the fortified fence that we have along the border. Did that have any economic impact question markWalls have been built under different terms. This is the most contentious because of the level of tension and how it has been proposed along with the other initiatives that I -- are anti-immigrant. It was proposed with the intention of having a sovereign country pay for. The way it was presented created a very difficult diplomatic relationship that impacted the economic relationship.Is Mexico warning that it will be less interested in trade with the U.S. if the new wall is built?That and also less interested in collaboration on national security, the war drugs -- on drugs. The amount of trade that goes through requires national collaboration to facilitate that. So there has been that message but at the same time as this wall is being proposed and constructed, we are renegotiating DACA. There are so many things happening in the same time that creates a strain in the relationship. We Vardy seen negative impacts. There's been a campaign to cease consumer spending in the U.S. in San Diego. We have seen some projects delayed an investment that we've seen and we thrive on and it pulled back or perhaps on hold until this uncertainty passes. That has been countered by a lot of efforts that our region has made. Everything we've done to counter what some of the damage that we've seen nationally it could've been worse and it could still be worse. Were working hard to send a different message to our number one training -- trading partner that we want to continue doing business with you regardless of a wall and we will continue working together and doing business.If the wall does go up, how do you think individuals will feel the impact in their pocketbooks?It's not just those that depend on that national relationship with the financial relationship impacts the consumer. We are all consumers. That we do share. The bilateral relationship actually on average help saved a family of four $10,000 a year in terms of trade barriers and supplier products. We coproduce in our region and we don't just trade. We are coproducing in any deterrence or hindrance to that relationship will be economically impactful. Aside from that, let's consider the funding that will go towards building that wall if it does get built. There is a wide range of estimates in terms of the cost from $12 billion-$20 billion utilizing taxpayer funds for the wall, which we don't feel is inefficient and hurts our economy instead of funding the numerous border infrastructure projects that we do need that will facilitate trade.We have current projects for the new port of entry all of those are in $250 billion price text.I've been speaking with vice president of international business affairs with the San Diego regional Chamber of Commerce. Thank you.Border wall construction includes plans to rebuild 14 miles of fencing in San Diego. For locals whose lives have been defined by this fence it's more than a construction project, it is personal and life-changing. For the series Jean Guerrero sought out people whose destinies are interlocked with the border. She profiles a mere list. -- muralist.He was a cowboy hat and a tool vest with paint. He is half Mexican and the canvas is the Mexico border fence. He outlines a human hand in a pointed finger.I am painting someone pointing toward the ocean where there are no walls.Here the fence looks between Tijuana and Imperial Beach stretching along steep hills into the blue waves of the ocean. He's using the fence to create what he hopes will turn into the largest mural.We know that a wall divides.He's not trying to comment on immigration. He's intrigued by the idea of symbolism.The wall symbolizes lots of things sadness, shame, wall of death and giving it life with all the people and good vibes. There would not be a wall that will make us feel bad.Every weekend he's been gathering people at the fence. Painters and non-painters and Mexicans and non-Mexicans smear collars.Were not going to talk bad about anyone the rule is we must paint something positive.People who've heard about them mural have come to participate to leave their own mark with quotes.It would inspire some migrants to pursue their dreams and Mexico.People think the American dream could only be in the U.S.She was born in Mexico and got a student visa to study art in the U.S. and Long Beach. He came back in 2008 during cartel violence. He wanted to transform the reputation. The mural is his most ambitious project. Now it could be destroyed. The Trump administration plan to rebuild 14 miles of border fencing starting at the coast where the mural is.All of us to paint no every external mural is going to fall. It brought people together and that is a memory that will remain for all of history.He resumes painting in Mexico. Jean Guerrero, KPBS news.America's wall is a collaboration and independently funded media partner of KPBS. For more on this including a map of the entire US-Mexico border go to .Still ahead we will hear how the America wall -- America's wall project got underway. It is 12:44 PM and you are listening to KPBS Midday Edition.The foundation of the wall coverage is investigation done by Jean Guerrero . They worked to outline the history of the current border wall and show the mapping of where and how the border is fenced and guarded. Joining me is Jean Guerrero . And a comprehensive peace on the website you dig into the history of the border wall in a surprising thing is that 90% of the wall was built under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. What was there before the current wall?Before that it was a very barrier -- it was a big barrier. For the most part it was a very poor border. A lot of going back and forth. Really from the time that the border was established after the Mexican American war, there was just barbed wire separating sections of farms in San Diego from farms in Mexico to make sure that livestock could not cross the border and feed on American crops.Since border crossing has been going on for decades, why was there this recent push to build the fence in?In the 90s, there was significant increase in illegal immigration coming from Mexico. That was the main driver for building the fencing which started under President Clinton. The reason that we are seeing the flow of immigration is because of improving economy in the U.S. and a lot of new job opportunities and because NAFTA hurt Mexico's sector and they could not -- no longer find markets for the crop so they ended up coming to the U.S.I want to talk more about this access to information about America's wall that is included in this report. How did you get it and where did that come from question markThat was a freedom of information requests that I filed a year ago. This was information that I've been wanting to get for some time. I had requested maps of the US-Mexico border repeatedly and they had denied my request. So I went to Leo and said how could I get that request to get them to respond to me? We work together and he suggested that I asked for a GIS file and we ended up getting that several months later. It is a map that showed not only where the stretch of the fencing is and where that was built. That allowed us to make these correlations with illegal immigration and drug trafficking and find out has it been effective.They built a detailed map of the present border wall. How were you able to do that question markWe were able to build that because of this amazing file that was provided to us that showed us every piece of the wall. There are over 3000 pieces of wall and it shows where every little piece was. We turn that into a user-friendly file and got a lot of information.We know that the border fence between San Diego and Mexico is a formidable barrier, but what is the current wall like another stretches of the border?San Diego is the strongest part of the border. In other sections all you have is this old helicopter landing pads. Another section you have much taller steel structures and in other parts we don't have anything at all and you might just have a natural barrier or amount is terrain but it's very.I want to talk about the Rio Grande is there any additional fencing along that stretch of border where the river divides the U.S. and Mexico?There are sections that do have fencing. Those areas to have some fencing, but the vast majority of the more than 1200 miles maybe 150 are fence. In Texas there is the natural barrier.I want to ask you how does the interactive map that has been created tell them about the current wall.It is a give you information?I think the most interesting and fun things about it is and lets you explore what was built each year because that is something is we think of it as something that is always been there. Most of it was built over the span of a couple of years. So that's something that tells you what year was -- it was built.Because we have that data, we were able to layer that data with other records like illegal immigration and also the detection of illegal tunnels. So we were able to examine the correlations between the construction of the wall over time and what happened in terms of drug trafficking in illegal immigration and this is been talked about that is caused by the wall the fact that it pushes illegal immigration into areas where it doesn't exist but we haven't been able to see this over time with data until now because of the fact that we had this amazing file of this fencing.Give us an idea of what it is telling us. When the walls went up, what did we find out about the construction of tunnels or how it affected the illegal drug trade?Wherever the wall was built we saw a decrease through that area. So places where the wall did not exist into the ocean, into the earth with the illegal tunnels and what we've seen is the use of drones. People are starting to bring drugs into the U.S. and border patrol in San Diego had their first apprehension of a drone this summer caring methamphetamine.Why do you think it's important for people to see the data on the border wall?I think we have a lot of ideas in our mind on what the border wall looks like. I think seeing how much is fence and where the fencing is in working around really helps those ideas and show us and help us understand what is the history of the wall and what is the situation like for people who live along the border. They relies where the sections did not exist and maybe somewhere in Texas where it is a foreign concept.President Donald Trump campaign on the promise of building a border wall but have other leaders suggested maybe different methods of curtailing illegal immigration and illegal drugs?Obama during his administration launched a $750 million initiative to provide aid to the government of El Salvador and Honduras. They push it hoping by helping the economy, we would see a decrease from there. That is an initiative that the Trump administration does continue to support. He had knowledge importance of helping the economies of countries that sever from extreme poverty and violence. They do plan to slash at the $460 million as opposed to seven or 50 million. They are very much focusing on the barriers as a way to stop immigration but researchers and previous leaders had is -- have acknowledged that when you create jobs, they are more likely to stay.What is the next step in the effort to build this new border wall?We saw the prototypes for the wall go up and the testing phase for the prototypes is going to start in the next few weeks. They will be testing them to see how well they resist climbing, tunneling and also cutting torches and it will be tested in the area away from the public site to make sure that the organizations are not seeing how that is happening but the other faces will be in the testing site in Otay Mesa.Congratulations to both of you on a comprehensive look at America's wall. You can read the reporting on America's wall at Thank you .Thank you.Be sure to watch KPBS evening edition at 5:00 and at 6:30 PM tonight at the join us again tomorrow for KPBS Midday Edition at noon and if you ever miss the show, you can check out the midday edition podcast at . I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Thank you for listening.