It’s a numbers game, right? No one expects total impenetrability (except Trump, I guess, once he gets rolling on one of his hypefest monologues). Surely the wall is reducing illegal border traffic to some degree. If the logistics of sawing through or climbing over it have slowed the influx of illegals significantly then the structure is serving its purpose.
Trump himself seemed to take that view when reporters asked him over the weekend about this WaPo story claiming that smugglers have sliced through the steel slats in an estimated 20 minutes or so using little more than $100 reciprocating saws.
President Trump on report parts of border wall have been sawed through: "I hadn't heard that. We have a very powerful wall, but no matter how powerful, you can cut through anything." pic.twitter.com/eza4h0m8GU
— The Hill (@thehill) November 3, 2019
He hasn’t always sounded so philosophical about the breachability of his pet project. In January of this year, NBC reported that DHS had also successfully sawed through the slats while testing prototypes of the wall in 2017. “That’s a wall designed by previous administrations,” Trump sniffed, dismissing the concern. A DHS spokesman backed him up:
“While the design currently being constructed was informed by what we learned in the prototypes, it does not replicate those designs,” said Waldman. “The steel bollard design is internally reinforced with materials that require time and multiple industrial tools to breach, thereby providing U.S. Border Patrol agents additional response time to affect a successful law enforcement resolution. In the event that one of the steel bollards becomes damaged, it is quick and cost-effective to repair.
Well, yes and no. If in fact multiple tools are needed to get through Trump’s wall, it looks like those tools are easy to come by. (Smugglers could get through even more easily by using an abrasive saw, notes WaPo, although that would raise the risk of detection by creating sparks.) It *is* true that the slats are easy to repair, but that comes with complications. A slat repaired by welding will be weaker than an intact slat so smugglers will have an easier time cutting through the same spot again during their next trip to the border. Not only that, but some smugglers have been clever by repositioning the cut slat after they’ve passed through and using putty to make it look it’s already been repaired with welding. Then they can reuse that breach until the Border Patrol detects it.
In fact, if you look at the image in the January NBC story, you’ll see that DHS cut through two separate slats to create space for a human being to pass through the wall during its testing in 2017. According to WaPo, though, smugglers have figured out that they only need to cut through one: Because the slats are 30 feet high and smugglers are sawing near the bottom, all it takes to push aside the long piece of cut slat that’s dangling from the top of the wall is a car jack. That creates enough space for a person to step through.
But as I say, the fact that some are getting through doesn’t mean that many more haven’t been successfully deterred. And, per WaPo, improvements are being made that’ll make it easier to detect the cutting going forward:
Current and former CBP officials confirmed that there have been cutting breaches, but they said the new bollard system remains far superior and more formidable than any previous design.
Some of the damage has happened in areas where construction crews have yet to complete the installation of electronic sensors that, once operational, will more quickly detect the vibrations that sawing produces on the bollards, the officials said…
Smugglers with reciprocating saws were able to cut through previous versions of the barrier in far less time, agents note, and the new bollard design makes the smugglers’ task significantly more difficult. Other Homeland Security officials note that the narrow gap created by a cut bollard permits only one person to pass through at a time, making it more difficult for large groups of migrants or smugglers to cross.
“It’s happening but not to the point where it’s an issue,” said a CBP spokesman to CBS of the sawing. Even when the wall is breached, said a different official, that doesn’t mean the smugglers succeed in entering the country: “There are cameras, there are sensors, there’s the wall. All of that buys agents time and space to be able to respond. If someone cuts through the wall, by the time they finish there’s going to be an agent standing right there.” Ideally, right.
But they’re not just sawing. WaPo claims they’re also using a double ladder system to go up and over the 30-foot wall, with the “up” ladder made of rebar and the “down” ladder on the other side made of rope. There’s actually a second wall they need to scale once they’ve made it past the first one — but thanks to the gaps between the slats and the fact that rebar is so thin, the rebar ladder can simply be slid through the gap in the first wall and hauled over to the second to scale that too.
Maybe Trump was right: Maybe a moat with alligators is the only solution.
Two clips for you here on the not-so-impenetrable wall. The second is NBC’s report from January about DHS cutting through the prototypes. It’s not like they didn’t know this might be a problem!