Furious at the Democrats’ success this week in blocking funding for construction of a wall along the border with Mexico for the remainder of the fiscal year, President Trump and White House advisers doubled down on their commitment to make good on one of Trump’s most important campaign pledges.
“Make no mistake, the wall will be built,” press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters this week after Congress denied Trump even a small down payment on the projected $25 billion project as part of a $1.2 trillion government spending bill for the next five months.
Despite the heated rhetoric, some senior administration officials have been scaling back expectations for the “big, beautiful” wall Trump promised to build. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly testified last month that far from being a towering monolithic structure, the wall now being envisioned by the administration would be a patchwork of concrete barriers, high-tech fencing and surveillance areas, tunnel-detection operations and existing barriers to illegal crossings and drug smuggling.
Regardless of what the wall eventually looks like – presuming, of course, it ever gets built – a new report by the Government Accountability Office suggests there are plenty of ways for illegal immigrants, illicit drug smugglers and human traffickers to breach almost any barrier the administration might choose to erect. And they could do it by land, sea or air.
Between 2011 and 2016, for example, 67 cross-border tunnels were uncovered in the Border Patrol’s territory around Tucson, Arizona, and San Diego, according to the report. While the number of cross-border tunnels uncovered declined over the past five years, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say illicit cross-border tunnels pose a “persistent threat to national security.”
Tunnels found in recent years range from crudely constructed holes the run short distances to highly sophisticated, elaborately constructed passageways with lighting, electricity, ventilation and train tracks.
What’s more, officials caution that as the administration increases border enforcement and surveillance, smugglers will turn increasingly to alternative routes.
The report states: “As DHS has increased the security of overland smuggling routes, transnational criminal organizations have adapted their techniques to smuggle drugs and humans through alternative methods. These methods include cross-border tunnels, ultralight aircraft, panga boats, and recreational maritime vessels. While these methods account for a small proportion of known smuggling, they can be used to transport significant quantities of drugs or for terrorist activity.”
The GAO analysis of Department of Homeland Security data revealed 534 incursions by ultralight aircraft and 309 detected smuggling operations involving fishing and recreational vessels along the U.S. mainland borders over the past five years.
“The number of known smuggling events involving these methods generally declined over this period, but they remain threats,” the report cautioned.