As for the campaign promise that a wall would stop undocumented border crossings, there were over 70,000 detentions in October and November of 2020, the highest totals for those two months in over a decade. Texas representative Henry Cuellar also notes that the wall built in his state has potentially increased the opportunities for migrants to apply for asylum in the United States — despite the last administration’s open disdain for the process. “When they put the fence in, they don’t follow the curves of the river,” explains Cuellar, who represents Texas’s 28th District, which includes a long sweep of the Rio Grande. Going in a “straight line from point A to point B” can create a no-man’s-land of up to half a mile, where border agents have to monitor both sides of the wall. With this additional zone to patrol, Cuellar says that “all migrants have to do is get to the river bank — that’s U.S. territory — at which point you can ask for asylum on credible fear.”
Getting through the barrier itself may be even easier. Though the wall’s anti-climb plate at the top stops animals from getting over, it can be summited by groups with simple rope ladders. Smugglers have also reportedly cut through its steel barriers with reciprocating saws, a widely available tool that costs about $100. In some areas, wall construction has actually made the border more friendly to entry. In the rugged Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, contractors blew up mountain cliffs to cut switchback roads for the wall, only to run out of time before getting the slats in the ground.
Now that the Biden administration has inherited this problem-ridden project, an unruly accounting process is underway in Washington.