Chairman Johnson: Fencing at the Border Works

Former CBP official on what Congress can do: “There is this symbolic or symptomatic holding of one’s breath corporately across the organizations. And they’ve slowed down, they’re watching and waiting to see if Congress and the American people and the administration have the will to follow through with completing it. And if we do, then we may see this as a continuing downtrend of crossings.”

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, held a hearing Tuesday seeking further information from former Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials David Aguilar and Ronald Colburn on the effectiveness of border barriers and need for additional resources at the southwest border. Excerpts from the hearing can be found here and below:

CHAIRMAN JOHNSON: Mr. Aguilar, the 650 miles of current fencing, and again, I'm waiting on the study and it'll be interesting when we have real information from DHS talking about their evaluation and what the real recommendation will be. Can you just give me your evaluation of the current fencing, about 350 miles of that is pedestrian fencing, about 300 miles is vehicle fencing, how good is it? How much needs to be replaced? In your estimation, how much more would need to be built?

MR. AGUILAR: So the existing fence right now has been absolutely critical to get us to where we are today at the level of control that exists along our border with Mexico. … We cannot forget though, that the purpose of the fence is to deter, to impede, to basically create more time and distance for the officers to be able to responsibly react and take the actions necessary. So of the existing fence that is out there now, there is quite a bit of it that needs to be replaced. And the reason for that, is what Chief Colburn and I and other Border Patrol agents did, we actually built those fences, back when we didn't have the support of the American public, as I put it.

So a lot of it needs to be replaced, now as to how much is required, that is going to depend on the chiefs that are in the field right now, which is exactly the position that we took, that I took as the national chief for the Border Patrol, that I was going to the chiefs in the field, asking them what they needed, where they needed it, what the type of fencing was, and what the purpose and rationale was, taking into account the very difficult decisions that we knew were going to be taking place.

CHAIRMAN JOHNSON: You talked about the goal being to impede, to deter, in Israel, there is about a 15 foot fence. And the whole design, first of all, you can see through it, which is an important design consideration, I think that's important. But the whole purpose was to give them about a five minute response time … It's built with very thick rebar, it can't be cut through easily, it can't just be clipped you'd have to have a pretty good saw, it takes time so you have enough time for the border patrol in Israel to respond. Is that basically what you're-the primary goal of the fencing?

MR. AGUILAR: Absolutely. It's to deter and impede the flow and create the time and distance, that's so critically important. Now depending on where you're building the fence, it could be minutes, it could be hours, and in some cases it could be longer than that that the Border Patrol needs to impede in order to take the appropriate actions.

CHAIRMAN JOHNSON: Mr. Colburn, in your testimony, you're relating direct experience … fencing barriers, actually work. The 650 miles, how much do you think needs to be replaced, how much more do you think has to be built? We're not going to hold you to it, because we're going to wait for the DHS study, but just some sort of general feel.

MR. COLBURN: I'll answer in two parts: first the collection of chiefs of the nine southwest border sectors all jointly say they need more fencing, as well as repairs and improvements on existing.

  • The full hearing can be found here.
  • Witness testimony can be found here.