A pair of Border Patrol sector chiefs called for more border wall construction during a hearing in the House Oversight and Government Accountability Committee on Tuesday.
Gloria Chavez, the chief patrol agent for the Rio Grande Valley sector in Texas, and John Modlin, the chief patrol agent for the Tucson sector in Arizona, both called for more wall construction in their respective sectors.
When asked how border walls impact the work in her sector, Chavez said barriers that include lights and electronic technologies to detect attempted breaches mean she doesn’t “have to have 20 agents in one zone” and those agents “can maximize their coverage area elsewhere,” thus allowing them to more effectively patrol a larger area with fewer personnel. Chavez said border walls also manage and direct the flow of people attempting to cross the border into areas, allowing her agents to “more effectively make an arrest.”
Modlin agreed with Chavez’s assessments about controlling the flow of illegal crossing attempts. Modlin said his sector did receive about 120 miles of border wall construction that they asked for, but construction was incomplete on access roads along the wall and on a fiber-optic cable to assist in detecting crossing attempts. He also said “gaps” remain in the wall.
When asked if her agents would benefit from more border wall construction, Chavez said, “locations in my AOR, in my area of responsibility, that requires barrier that is unprotected at this current time.” Chavez said certain gates in her sector are also missing.
During another segment of the hearing, Modlin said single Border Patrol agents are trained to apprehend groups of 10 to 20 people, “however, it also takes a single Border Patrol agent to apprehend a single person coming across the border.” Modlin said cartels are increasingly sending one person or groups of two or three people across the border, spreading Border Patrol agents more thinly in what he described as a “task saturation” tactic that allows the cartels to get more people across without being stopped.
President Joe Biden halted border wall construction as one of his first moves in office.
Arizona subsequently began placing shipping containers along the border to block off some gaps between walls, but agreed to remove those barriers after a lawsuit by the Biden administration. The Biden administration has announced plans to close some border wall gaps in the Yuma border sector of Arizona with new barrier construction.
Modlin was asked to assess the reasons for the rising numbers of people being arrested attempting to cross the border. He said that after Biden took office, the most common response from people arrested in border crossing attempts “was that they believed when the administration changed, that the law changed and policy changed and that there was an open border.”
Democrats Say Republicans Are ‘Thwarting’ Reforms
Ahead of the hearing, the Democratic minority on the House committee accused the Republican majority of calling the hearing “to amplify white nationalist conspiracy theories instead of a comprehensive solution to protect our borders and strengthen our immigration system.”
Good morning and good luck to everyone except @GOPoversight members who are using today’s hearing to amplify white nationalist conspiracy theories instead of a comprehensive solution to protect our borders and strengthen our immigration system.https://t.co/V4kv8twk5a
— Oversight Committee Democrats (@OversightDems) February 7, 2023
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat member on the committee, said record-low unemployment under Biden has raised a need for more workers in the U.S. economy. Raskin said creating new legal pathways to citizenship would grow the U.S. economy further.
“Republicans driven by the extreme MAGA wing of their party have been systematically thwarting and derailing comprehensive efforts to improve our immigration system and strengthen border enforcement,” Raskin said.
Raskin said Republicans have “spread fear about a foreign invasion” and “disinformation about fentanyl, the vast majority of which is brought into our country by American smugglers” who are “traveling through lawful ports of entry.”
Modlin was asked to respond to claims that most fentanyl crossing the U.S. border is seized at ports of entry and assess whether border security officials should not worry about drug smuggling between the ports of entry. Modlin said that in his sector, 52 percent of the illegal fentanyl his agents seized was intercepted in the field being backpacked across the border, while the other 48 percent was intercepted at immigration checkpoints.
During the hearing, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) suggested that increases in fentanyl seizures at the border under the Biden administration may be indicative of improved border security rather than a worsening crisis.
“What’s interesting about this is, of course, we had a change of president in 2020 and some changes in border policy, and what we can see here is that the facts show we are seizing a lot more fentanyl,” Porter said. “And for me, as a mom, that is a sign of success.”
Porter then asked if increased seizures at ports of entry may be leading cartels to try other smuggling means like crossing between ports of entry.
“Criminals are always going to go to the path of least resistance,” Modlin said. “And if the ports are the path of least resistance, they will go there and if between the ports are the path of least resistance, they will go there.”