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Roundtable: A Closer Look At The Border Wall

November 17, 2017 4:45 p.m.

Roundtable: A Closer Look At The Border Wall


Jean Guerrero, reporter, KPBS

Leonardo Castañeda, reporter, inewsource

Brandon Quester, director of data and visuals, inewsource

Kate Morrissey, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

Related Story: Roundtable: A Closer Look At The Border 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.

Building America's wall, the cost and challenges of one of President Donald Trump's biggest campaign promises. This special series is a result of months of work by KBPS and news source. We dive into the data why it is crucial to telling the story and when politics inspires arts. A creative outlet for the debate. KBPS "Roundtable" starts now.Welcome to our discussion. I am marks our. Joining me at the "KPBS Roundtable" urging Guerrero, Investigative Reporter. Good to have you here today.Reporter Leo Johnson NATO. Glad you are back with us today. The director of data and visuals. Kate Morsi, who covers immigration for the San Diego Union Tribune. Glad you're back with us today. It was candidate Donald Trump's mantra for over a year at political rallies. As president he would build a wall over the southern border and Mexico would pay for it. We already have a wall in San Diego. We are focusing today on that existing wall, America's wall. Here is an expert from the series from KBPS news .Our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more.The United States must secure its borders. This is a basically -- this is a basic responsibility of a sovereign nation.We have strengthened border security beyond what many believe were possible.This is an President trumps well, this is America's wall.We will have strong, incredible boarders. We are going to build a wall. It is going to be built.[ Applause ]As president Trump looks to build an impenetrable wall, so far only prototypes have been built. For now, his administration has scaled back plans to lengthen the border and instead plans to focus on rebuilding existing barriers, starting in San Diego. KBPS and I Newsource teamed up to examine those barriers using what we believe is the most comprehensive data ever released. We wanted to find out if the wall has been doing his job of reducing illegal immigration and drug trafficking. Using multiple freedom of information act request, we learned about the walls construction over time with other records. Our data shows a conspicuous pattern. Over time, America's wall has reduced smuggling where it has been built. It has shifted those into gaps between the barriers into the ocean, into the sky and even underground.The purpose of border walls is to curtail illegal immigration and block the flow of drugs. Our series, America's wall, looks at how well it works and whether a new and longer one will work better. Start with a bit of an overview.There is no one way it looks. It is a hodgepodge of different materials, corrugated steel, metal columns, Vietnam war helicopter landing mats, even, which is what we see in San Diego. It is 653 miles of sort of discontinuous barriers. That is what our data allowed us to visualize exactly where it was and what the different barriers were supposed to do.Tell us a little bit about the "America's Wall" series. What was the purpose behind it? How does it tell the story ? The border has been covered extensively by news outlets across the world.It started off as a curiosity I had, starting with the president Trump talking about his wall during the campaign in 2015. As we know, there is already a wall here. I wanted to find out exactly where there is a wall, what it looks like and initially, customs and border protection refused to release any information, saying it was a national security concern if they released the information. They could not say exactly where the barriers were. That is how I got involved with INews source trying to submit a freedom of information act request. We worded it in a way that we ended up getting a really detailed response. That is something no other news organization has gotten, this massive file showing not only exactly where the wall is, but the day of construction for every stretch of fencing. The date of construction was key because it allowed us to layer that information with things like him -- like illegal immigration, the construction of illegal tunnels. By correlating these different factors, we were able to ask the question and try to answer the question, have these barriers been effective?Larry, your INews source team put a lot of effort into collecting this data. It is a rich trove of information through these requests. Tell us why the data is relevant to people here?It really lets us see what is there and when it was built. It is interesting because especially in San Diego, where the border and the border wall has such a presence in our minds, it let us understand how it is something that has not necessarily been here always. A lot of this will, even in San Diego, has been around for the only the last 10 or 12 years. That is something that lets us understand, even living here, this is a shifting and evolving wall that is, you know, strengthening in a lot of ways over the last 12 years.Brenda, you did a lot of work in this series looking at specific types of barriers and how to present them to the audience in a clear and understandable way, which is a heck of a challenge. Tell us about the visuals accompanying the stories. What does it show about this existing border wall?I think the core component of what we were able to bring to the public is essentially an interactive map that we created, where we plotted each piece of the type of fencing across the entire U. S./Mexican border. -- Mexico border. This is primary vehicles sent -- primary vehicle fencing. In a visual look and in an interactive way, we layered that with apprehension data. That was also over time. The earliest date on the map itself goes back to 1962. It goes all the way to 2015. We were able to layer that data so we can look at apprehension. In 2005, what fencing was built in 2005? What was the impact of that fencing in that particular sector and how did that impact the flow of migration? I think that is one of them are sophisticated ways we visualized this project. We also used basic data visualizations. One is one that Leo created that showed the key points when one sector became the most popular point of entry for apprehensions and where those intersection points told the story of as fencing is created here, it's just migration into this other sector. Then it is a reactive process of building fencing and increase -- increasing enforcement.That is something I think people may have theorized or used antidote to try to say that. It is something we were able to take a reeling numbers driven, analytical look and say, is this true? Where has it gone? It has not gone into vague deserts, they have gone into specific places in the country. Where are those places?You have covered immigration and smuggling. What are your impressions of readers understanding of the existing law, wall and enforcement efforts?Immigration and border issues are so complex in there are so many layers to how to look at them. A lot of times, because of the axis we are giving -- given in the national security vaults of the government where it is hard to get some of that data, it can be difficult to tell stories from that perspective a lot of times. We are reduced to anecdotal stories because that is what we have the easiest access to. Anytime we can get our hands on data and look at it from that perspective, it is always helpful for readers.Helpers -- helpful for reporters, researchers or anyone else who wants to look at this data. I want to ask you, what about factors that motivate people to cross illegally? What are some of the factors? Is the wall a big deterrent in terms of the reasons people come?Based on the people I have spoken with, I think this factors have changed over time. When you look historically, a lot of it was economically motivated. People were coming to find jobs and send money back to Mexico. When you look at the apprehension numbers and where people are coming from, when you talk to people who study migration, that is definitely trending downward. Mexico's economy is stronger than it used to be. Especially when the U. S. hit the recession, our economy got weaker. The risk versus reward changed. You are also seeing a great increase in people who are fleeing violence in Central American countries. That is a very different motivator from I want a job. With some of the different allegations we reported on earlier this year, and I think we have discussed before, about asylum-seekers, not necessarily being accepted at points of entry. There have been complaints filed with DH offices about the. Some of them are then trying to cross over barriers instead. I don't know that is likely to change, if they are fleeing some of these horrific violence is back home.We have a bite from President Trump here. He has made a huge issue of this. He still needs proper funding from the wall. It can only come from Congress. Here are some Kyle and -- some comments he has made. This was in Arizona at a campaign rally as part of the DACA extension.We are building a wall on the southern border, which is absolutely necessary.[ Applause ]Build that wall. The obstructionist Democrats would like us not to do it, but believe me, if we have to close down our government, we are building that wall.I have a very, very good relationship with a lot of people. A lot of people want this to happen. They expected to happen. We will see that it happens. We will only do it if we get extreme security. If we get not only surveillance, but everything that goes along with surveillance and ultimately, we have to have the wall. If we don't have the wall, we are doing nothing.How much are the estimates of what this wall will cost and what has Congress done so far about it?Estimates vary drastically. I guess the most reliable estimate we were able to look at is that it will cost more than $20 million. Depending on how much is built, that could be anywhere between 50 miles and 200 miles. The Trump administration has not been very clear in terms of what the plans are. Currently there are focusing on rebuilding the fence. The cost is expected to vary, depending on those factors.I want to ask you, we are talking about, some set makes -- some segments, most segments, the entire border is a most 2000 miles. Are there walls of various types along the stretch?Based on the data analysis we get, it is about 653 miles of fencing that separates the two countries. There are vast swaths of land, in particular, in Texas that are open. That doesn't always account for the geographical barriers that exist now. You have mountains, streams and rivers. It is tricky to say. It is hard to say how much is covered, too. You can look at a piece of fencing and it will go perpendicular to the border. Sometimes the fencing goes into the country, as well. The precise nature of exact mileage was a tricky one. We had a lot of discussions as we were looking at the map and trying to determine a precise distance of mileage. By and large, there are large swaths of land that are unfenced.It is roughly about a third of the existing border has some sort of fencing, as we describe going along here. One other point I wanted to make is Trump certainly isn't the first president to bring up a border wall. You wrote in your story about three different presidents, two Democrats and one Republican who built sections of the wall relatively recently. Tell us about it.About 97% of the wall that we currently have was built under the Obama, Clinton and Bush administration's.George W. Bush.It was built after 2005 when the real ID act was passed which allowed homeland security to bypass environmental and cultural protection laws, in order to build fence -- fencing quickly. We saw a massive increase in border fence construction. A majority of what we have is fairly new.What is interesting, too is one of the things we saw with Clinton is he started using double and triple fencing, which is something I will think we will see a lot more of.Trump has notoriously overstated border numbers. He said last year, Hillary Clinton wants to let people pour in. You could have 650 million people poured in. We do nothing about it. Inc. about it. That is what could happen. It could triple the size of the country in a way. It is a ridiculous statement on its face. In fact, we have seen a net outflow of people. It is surprising it even became a big issue in last year's campaign, based on the numbers.What we have seen as the Mexican economy has gotten better, more job opportunities are available over the past few years, there is a stabilization in terms of illegal immigration coming from Mexico. That is definitely a surprising thing. When the wall became this massive aspect of the campaign, that was surprising. We are seeing very, very slow illegal immigration.The numbers don't back that up. I have another bite I want to get to from the series, operation gate keeper and president will Clinton had unintended consequences. Bob mopping, a self-described vigilante, here is a portion of his story.I consider myself and get American. I love my country. I believe in the Constitution. It is my duty to protect my country from people invading it. I will die and I don't care how, except I am not going to die a slumbering old man in a rest home pushing a walker. I am going out in a firefight.All right. That is dramatic stuff, what did George W. Bush, what did his administration do after 9/11?The secure fence act was passed in 2006. That called for hundreds of new miles of fencing. That was the most dramatic increase in fencing that we saw over the 2008 and 2009 timeframe where the biggest fencing construction happened.I want to ask the INewsource folks, you have a lot of information here, a lot of stuff to go through and all, but what are some of the questions that you were not able to get to?I think the biggest question and issue that we grappled with a lot is that we know what is there. We don't know what is not there. We just have a philosophical question, but we don't know when a lot of that construction was done. Did they put up a chain-link fence that someone put up to Mexican cows from eating their corn, or was there nothing there before? That is a question that we were not able to answer with that data. It didn't tell us a lot of the historical things. In a lot of places they were nothing. We talked to people who said there was nothing. There was some fencing, especially in San Diego, in certain parts, we know there was fencing in the early 2000's or the 90s, but we just don't know.That was really a difficult question to answer. The data that we have available that is presented in the map is of today's wall. We have to say that with the caveat of today's existing wall, at least going back to 1962, this is what we know was constructed in win. I know, for example, years ago, I used to report on the southern border in Arizona. There were large sections that were chain-link fences. Now they are considered primary fencing areas. There has been a change but that is what we cannot answer is what was there prior to that and to what extent?I wanted to get to the idea of the wall as a deterrent. You reported that the numbers have dropped significantly and dramatically in some instances when walls and barriers go up. People do find a way around, under, over.That's right. That is where a big part of the story was significant rerouting is what we saw in terms of illegal immigration and some forms of drug trafficking. Smuggling, in general. Wherever the wall goes up, you definitely see a decrease in the Valley of that is something that is argued for. I interviewed border patrol and they said before the wall was built, it was impossible to do their jobs. We saw massive flows of people coming in. It has really stabilized the region and allowed huge shopping centers to go up right at the border. There are all these very affluent neighborhoods at the border. At the same time, we saw a dramatic shift into the desert and into the ocean. We saw Maritime apprehensions go up 74% during the main year of border fence construction. Also, underground and most recently, we are seeing drones.Don't a lot of the folks who wind up here as undocumented immigrants actually come by airplane? Obviously, a wall would not affect that. Or they overstay visas or something like that?There is a significant percentage that come with these over stays him a rather than crossing a border without permission. There are different legal ramifications that happened to you, depending on which way you do it. Crossing the border has been criminalized as sort of a federal offense. You can get a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on how many times you do it. Visa overstay does not have the same ramification at this point. There is some debate about that.It is a terrific series. I recommend everyone take a look. It is on the KBPS and INewsource website.Politics plays out in Washington, art always looms to add perspective, emotion and often commentary. Those issues were at the heart of an artistic competition at the San Diego Institute of arts. Tell us about the two artists involved in the idea behind this particular piece of performance art.They started with a blank, 16 foot wall, two artists. Both of them grew up in the border region. I both the -- I believe they were both born in Tijuana but they have crossed over so many times, they were doing this, sort of combat dialogue dual thing. It had a lot of layers to it. One started at one end of the wall and the other started at the other end and then they free styled their images. It was completely improvised. They were not allowed to come in with any sketches or projections or anything. Just what they were feeling and thinking about. As they worked through it, one of the things they were meditating on was the idea of the border. The ways it has influenced them and other people who they had conversations with as the week progressed.Set the scene for us. You wrote the artists encouraged people to talk with them as they started this creative process. A win over a few days.It started on Tuesday and ended on Saturday. They were working most of the day every day and sometimes erasing what they did and redoing different sections. People were encouraged to come in and talk to them through that process. They wanted the process of the mural to really be the arch that was featured, rather than our finished mural, which tends to be how we interact with murals, it is when they are finished. This is a very different way of looking at mural is him and having conversations. That influences your improvisation as you go to your next part.How did they go? Why don't you put a skull and cross bones here and flowers there?I think it was more philosophical. I heard snippets about all kinds of people. It was pretty buried in the things they were talking about.How did the artists work with each other? Did they go back and add something or subtract something from each other's work likesOver the course of the week, they went over to each other side, they met in the middle, obviously, but at different points would go to each other's side. On one side there was a woman. He had not finished her legs. The other artists went over and had her legs become a monster that had several of the things going on with it.How did the artists explain to you the ideas they were trying to convey as they went along?There were quite a few layers to that. One of the really interesting points from Sanchez was the idea of meditating on power and the normalization of power that happens. He had a really wide variety of images on his part. Everything from indigenous influenced imagery to Mickey Mouse was up there. Then there were these sort of different monsters. That was part of the mural. Crossway talked about how the monsters for him were representative of this stereotyping that is been happening when you talk about Trump calling Mexicans rapists and all this stuff. He was meditating on some of that stereotyping. What I found really interesting was there was this creature in the middle of the mural. It looks kind of like a monster, it had fangs and was sort of like scary looking in some of the features that he had. He was cowering in the middle rather than attacking something. I think the mural left a lot of ambiguous pieces to it. You had to decide what it was or what it meant. I don't think the artists were trying to answer this issue. I think they were trying to ask a lot of questions.Engage people as they went along. With a few seconds left, tell us where it is, where people can see it, how much longer it will be there.It is at the San Diego Art Institute in Balboa Park. It runs through January 7. They are open Tuesday through Saturday, I think there are closed Monday, don't make the mistake I did and try to go on a Monday to see it. It is not that expensive to get in. Tuesday, I think it is free for San Diego residents.I hope a lot of people get out there and see it.That does wrap up another week of stories at the "KPBS Roundtable". I would like to thank my guests . A reminder that all the stories we discussed today are available on our website, I am Mark Sauer. Thank you for joining us today on the roundtable.KBPS is supported by waxy sanitary supply, serving San Diego since 1945, helping organizations key facilities cleaner and safer. With the recent outbreak of hepatitis A, they offer sanitary solutions, including puerile surface spray.The Irving group. President Greg Irving's only San Diego-based company provides representation and helps San Diego businesses. More information is online.Get insight from local journalists on the weeks important stories and issues when you want to. Catch-up each week with the KBPS "Roundtable" podcast.