COLUMN: Walls are more than a symbol

Criminal organizations seeking to degrade the security and sovereignty of our nation evolve their tactics in response to law enforcement actions, smart application of resources and deployment of tactical infrastructure. As the chief patrol agent of the Rio Grande Valley Sector, I lead more than 3,000 dedicated law enforcement professionals who report for work every day to protect our nation from the criminal organizations that threaten the safety of the American public. We, as a law enforcement organization, must remain proactive in our approach to border security. It is our duty.

Our adversaries at the border are ruthless transnational criminal organizations, highly motivated and generously financed by the billions of dollars made trading in drugs, weapons and human beings. There is much debate on the methods and types of resources needed in combating threats to border security.

A lot of attention continues to be focused on border wall construction, and rightly so. For years, Border Patrol’s experience and expertise were ignored and border wall investments were not on the table.

Real commitment to this critical component of border security is finally here.

As reported in both local and national media, officials from the government of Mexico recently discovered an incomplete tunnel south of Brownsville. Contrary to a recently published opinion, discovery of a tunnel in Mexico does not demonstrate that our border security investment strategy is failing. Rather, it clearly shows it is working. The recent tunnel discovery was proof that not only are transnational criminal organizations getting more desperate, but that our coordination and collaboration with the government of Mexico is yielding results.

Many detractors of the border wall incorrectly assume that the U.S.

Border Patrol views the wall as the “be all, end all” single resource needed to secure the border. The border wall is more than a crude barrier. At a minimum, it is a formidable barrier effective in both deterring and slowing down illegal entrants to provide agents the vital seconds and minutes they need to respond. However, the border wall system we are building now also boasts advanced detection technology that can provide an exact linear position along the border or identify a specific zone where an intrusion or tampering occurs. The border wall system includes a patrol road and an enforcement zone to help agents contain and resolve illicit activity before it reaches local neighborhoods, highways and eventually communities across the country.

In the late 1990s through the early 2000s, the U.S. Border Patrol built a border wall near Brownsville, then the busiest section of the Rio Grande Valley Sector. Once infrastructure and camera systems were in place, illegal alien apprehensions plummeted in that area. During my career spanning 25 years that includes multiple Border Patrol sectors and leadership positions, I’ve seen firsthand that walls work.

With effective barriers in place, the illicit activity hammering Brownsville shifted west to areas nearer McAllen and Rio Grande City.

Those two areas have been in the national spotlight in recent years due to overwhelming numbers of illegal alien apprehensions and narcotic seizures. They also are locations that lack barriers, technology and lateral access roads.

The shift in illicit activity to areas lacking barriers is not new or surprising. What we experienced here in the Rio Grande Valley is a localized version of a reality seen on a macro scale across the U.S.-Mexico border. When infrastructure improvements were made in California and Arizona, illicit border traffic shifted to more vulnerable areas like South Texas, essentially making it “ground zero” in border security.

Criminal organizations test both real and perceived gaps in our capabilities. The wall changes the behavior of the criminal organizations. As the efficiency of our operations and our detection capabilities increase with the border wall system, smugglers must seek new ways to cross their illicit contraband. In doing so, they must expend additional resources and money to continue their criminal enterprise. Forcing them to go underground, or over for the wall for that matter, is proof that our strategy is sound.

It is ludicrous to suggest that we should abandon certain border security measures simply because these dangerous organizations will try to find a way in no matter what.

We are constantly utilizing innovative technology at the border and will continue to do so to meet any threat.

The border wall system is just one of many tools the U.S. Border Patrol is bringing to the RGV Sector to help protect our communities and our nation. With strategically placed resources, we are closing gaps that criminals have spent decades exploiting.

Walls work.

Brian S. Hastings is chief patrol agent for the U.S. Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley Sector.