President Trump's border wall could wipe out illegal immigrants, but now he has created a new way to sneak into the US thanks to the flood of buildings in Southern California.
The Washington Times has learned that migrants are mingling with construction crews who build the wall, even wearing orange jackets to suit the environment. Smugglers also wear the vests and go so far as to "clone" the trucks of construction companies to try to fool Border Patrol agents.
It is impossible to know how many times the tactic has been successful, but The Times has found at least three cases in the last two months in which agents sniffed the ploys and arrested the people involved.
"The current construction of the US / Mexico International Border Fence (IBF) has helped smugglers mingle with legitimate construction vehicles in this area," agent Anna Davalos told a judge in a statement supporting the smuggling charges in a of the cases in October. 15 attempt in the desert west of Calexico.
The agents told the Times they were waiting. They saw the same thing a decade ago, during a fence-building round under President George W. Bush, and before that when parts of California were first surrounded by Mexico.
Each time, after the fence was built, illegal immigration into these areas decreased. Officials say this is also what they expect this time, although for now, Customs and Border Protection recognize that construction is causing opportunities "to exploit real or perceived vulnerabilities."
Trump's quest to drastically expand the existing boundary wall will likely create many opportunities for construction-related mischief.
If the courts and Congress cooperate, the president said, he expects about 400 kilometers of walls to be built from 2017 to 2020. Part of this will be new and other sections will replace the outdated fences.
So far, most construction has taken place in California and western Arizona, where the government owns much of the land and construction is relatively easy. But the government announced earlier this month the start of tens of kilometers in the Rio Grande Valley region of Texas.
To date, no new border mileage has been fenced. The entire construction replaced existing walls or vehicle barriers or added a secondary wall away from the main border wall. Between the walls there is a forbidden zone where migrants are most easily captured.
In at least one case discovered by the Times, a fake construction vehicle was used to gain access to that no-man's land.
The CBP, which oversees the Border Patrol, insisted that there are ways to deal with these situations.
"Although CBP cannot disclose specific strategies we use, we can say that through situational awareness, intelligence resources and rapid response, we prevent these smuggling attempts from being successful," the agency said.
One of these tactics is to ask legitimate construction trucks to hang labels on the rearview mirrors so that agents can quickly know if the traffic is genuine.
The lack of a tag was how the agents captured Angelica Jessica Lopez, the woman accused of October 15 smuggling. Court documents say Lopez was caught with three illegal immigrants from Mexico, who paid $ 7,000 to smuggle into the country.
In one case, a month earlier, agents spotted three illegal immigrants crossing an area the Border Patrol calls "Jonny Wolf's" near the border crossing point at Otay Mesa.
A remote surveillance camera saw four people in orange vests jumping across the border. The agents said it was "an attempt to mingle with the construction crews."
One person, presumably the walking guide, returned to Mexico, while three others climbed into a truck waiting for them. Agents stopped the truck and arrested the driver, who said he was getting $ 800 for smuggling. The three migrants paid $ 7,000 each.
Also in September, agents in San Diego tracked down a decoyed Ford F-250 truck to look like a construction company vehicle while strolling through the border-walled construction zone near San Ysidro's port of entry.
Agents said they suspected the truck had made previous races and were able to stop it this time when it came out of a restricted construction zone. They arrested the driver, an unidentified youth and a passenger. Both wore orange vests.
Inside the shell-laden truck bed, agents found 22 illegal immigrants, some of whom they said they feared for a lifetime overcrowding and lack of seats, seat belts or water.
Chris Harris, who recently retired from the San Diego Border Patrol, said construction crews sometimes help agents sniff out impostors trying to hide in the rush of work.
"It's a cat and mouse game," said Harris. "But when you realize that they are trying to smuggle narcotics or worse, it becomes much more:" You don't want to get burned. "
Cloning is a millennial tactic for border smugglers.
Fake FedEx and UPS delivery trucks were used, as well as fake and real ambulances.
In one case, during the summer, agents at a South Texas highway checkpoint stopped an ambulance claiming to be transporting a patient. The driver's nervous behavior warned the duty officer. When the agent started asking questions, the story fell apart. At the same time, another agent's dog began alerting in the vehicle as carrying drugs or migrants.
They found six illegal immigrants in the back of the ambulance, including one who was pretending to be a patient, tied to a cervical stretcher, an oxygen mask and an intravenous drip, court documents said.
The driver admitted to agents that he was receiving $ 2,000 to take McAllen's six to Houston, and his co-conspirator said he was receiving an additional $ 1,000. Two of the smuggled migrants told agents they paid the co-conspirator $ 3,500 each as a final installment of smuggling fees.
Other counterfeits included a fake adult van in Texas in July 2018 and a fake paramedic truck a month later.
While some of the cloned vehicles are good imitators, they don't usually stand up to scrutiny.
Agents said smugglers would time their races to coincide with changes in the Border Patrol shift, figuring they could fool the surveillance cameras and, with agents returning to base or base to camp, would not have to survive. to an increase. close examination.