It’s a controversial topic, but is the border wall really worth it? Eyewitness News’ Joe Moeller went down to San Diego to talk with border patrol agents to find out what their perspective is on “The Wall,” a three part series.

Reporting by JOE MOELLER
Photography by WILL BUTLER
Web Story by TROY POPE
Web and Story Graphics by NICK REFUERZO

April 26, 2017

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Since President Donald Trump took office, the border between the United States and Mexico has been in the national spotlight.

The president is now seeking money for the controversial wall.

His requirements for the wall are for it to be between 18 to 30 feet high; it can either be solid concrete or have a see-through component.

Companies interested in bidding submitted proposals earlier this month.

Would the wall change the border is the question.

Eyewitness News reporter Joe Moeller went down to the California border in San Diego for the three-part series “The Wall.”

Where the fence starts in the calm Pacific Ocean is also where a controversy begins.

A dividing line separates the U.S. from Mexico.

“We are seeing an increase in cocaine, heroine, – methamphetamine”

This place is not seen by most Americans, and most don’t know what really goes on here. They don’t tell them the dangers of crossing the border illegally.

“As we get better at enforcing on the border, the organizations get much more aggressive and much more bold,” said Jose Hernandez, who is one of more than 2,000 border patrol agents in San Diego. “They’ll know this is where the end of the fence is.”

This place is ground zero for the international drug trade.

“We are seeing an increase in cocaine, heroine, – methamphetamine,” Hernandez said.

Illegal goods are smuggled in cars, dropped by planes small planes, and thrown over. Sometimes the contraband is out of plain sight in million-dollar tunnels built by cartels.

“Since 9/11 we have found 60 [tunnels],” Hernandez said.

One load smuggled through a tunnel can be worth more than the tunnel cost to dig.

Roughly 90 percent of the cocaine in the U.S. comes from south of the border. Agents here have no choice but to keep their guards up.

“Assaults are up a little again this year over last year. Right now we’re [at] about 40, and we still have six months left in this year,” Hernandez said.

Those looking to cross legally can be waiting two, three, or four hours.

There are 75,000 people who pass north through the port of San Ysidro in San Diego every single day for work, school, or tourism.

“Those looking to cross legally can be waiting two, three, or four hours.”

People without papers who are desperate to get north find a way through – around the barriers or through them.

In 2016, there were 550 cuts in the fences just in San Diego. People make a quick cut and run through.

Recently on the rise is the number of people attempting to get to the U.S. through boats up the coast.

From the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, there is a border barrier of some sort for 705 miles. Other areas have natural barriers like mountains or rivers.


There is a border barrier of some sort for 705 miles

Populated areas can have two or more barriers.

On one side is the primary fence – built in 1995 using material left from the Vietnam War. This is intended to stop vehicles.

The secondary fence, completed in 2008 under President George W. Bush’s Secure Fence Act is designed to stop people.

There is only 37 miles nationwide of this fencing.

“The primary fence is 6 maybe 8 feet tall depending on where you are. On the left hand side this fence is 15 to 18 feet high depending on where you go,” Hernandez said.

Just in the San Diego sector, the primary fence stretches 48 miles. It ends where the Otay mountain range begins.

“Right here is the United States; that rock behind it is in Mexico,” Hernandez demonstrated.

The location is miles from any U.S. city, and to the left is Tijuana, Mexico.

You can easily see the life below – dirt roads, traffic, and the people coming and going from unfinished hillside homes.

During Eyewitness News’ 20 minutes at the location, a man with a backpack in hand came out of the hills and approached. He stopped and went west along the fence.

People who cross sometimes get lost in the wilderness. Some even end up dying from dehydration or the cold.

He may have been trying to cross. People who cross sometimes get lost in the wilderness. Some even end up dying from dehydration or the cold. Apprehensions are common.

“In San Diego sector we average about 85 people a day,” Hernandez said.

In 2016, 31,891 people were apprehended. That is just in the San Diego sector.

“It is the first time we have broken 30,000 apprehensions in the last five years,” Hernandez said.

There were 415,816 illegal crossers apprehended in 2016 nationwide. In 2015 there were 337,117.

“Texas is now experiencing their surge in people crossing the border,” Hernandez said.

Apprehensions are much lower in California than the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas – which had 188,000 last year alone.  

Hernandez said they will go where they know it is easier.

The border patrol’s union came out in support of President Donald Trump.

In 2016, 31,891 people were apprehended. That is just in the San Diego sector.

“We have been saying for years what we thought we needed,” said Terence Shigg of the National Border Patrol Council. “It was the first time we actually had someone that actually considered us the subject matter expert.”

The president proposed more resources and manpower. Currently there are just over 21,000 agents.

“There is actually a legal number that we are supposed to have; we’re 1,200 below that,” Shigg said.

The president’s most controversial and debated proposal – the construction of “the wall.”

Is a $25 billion wall the way to go?

“We want to make sure it is something that is not easily defeatable – something that isn’t cut, or something that isn’t easily climbed over or gone under,” Shigg said.

The current infrastructure has lights, technology, and agents – but they say they need more.

The union said agents think the border is about 40 percent secure.

But the question is still up in the air: Is a $25 billion wall the way to go?

The union said agents think the border is about 40 percent secure.

President Bush’s secondary fence, completed nearly a decade ago, cut apprehension numbers by hundreds of thousands.

“We need that infrastructure – a wall is part of that infrastructure,” Shigg said.

But even with these current fences, the drugs and people still continue to flow into the United States.

Hernandez said, “I think our stance on the border is what made them start using tunnels more often.”

Since President Trump took office, illegal crossings have decreased.

“We want to know who is coming across the border, and that’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Hernandez said.

But will the wall make us safer, and is it worth it?

That is still be determined.

The border wall is getting closer to becoming a reality, and nobody will experience the change like those who live at the border.

From border cities like Calexico, Calif. to rural areas, most living down here have some sort of opinion on the barriers running along our southern border.

Some say they want change; others say it is fine the way it is.

Mexican license plates. Pedestrian-filled sidewalks. Hourslong waits at border crossings – and border patrol SUVs are normal for border towns.

Nearly 40,000 people live in Calexico, and the town is bustling.

That is because another 40,000 people cross into this city every day.

“We are very much like Mexicali,” Calexico Mayor Armando Real said. “We are the gateway to another country.”

The city limits stop at a tall metal border fence.

“We are the gateway to another country.”

You can see and hear the life on the other side in Mexicali, Mexico.

The Mexicali metro area is much bigger with over a million people.

Real said the thousands who cross are vital for his city to function.

“Studies have shown that 70 to 90 percent of the business that we depend on is from the consumer across the border,” Real said.

At 3 p.m. on a Friday, the crowded sidewalks are filled with students with backpacks.

A majority of them are walking south of the border – back home to Mexicali.

“All the kids from high school that go to our high school locally – all these kids live in Mexicali. You can follow them back they all live over there,” Real said.

Real, who is also the Calexico ambassador to Mexicali, says the U.S. town would simply shut down without its sister city.

“You don’t want to go to your neighbors house if you feel you are not wanted there,” Real said.

Since President Trump took office, Real said he has noticed a difference.

“They feel now that the government now looks at them in a different way,” Real said.

The administration’s infamous wall is a reality for people here. It is something they see and interact with every day.

“Whether the wall is 18 or 30 feet – or 40 feet – the person that wants to get over it will,” Real said.

“You do not want to go to your neighbors house if you feel you are not wanted there.”

The reaction from people Eyewitness News spoke to were not much different.

“Spending so much money for nothing that they’re going to be able to stop,” resident Francisco Pacheco said.

“There is already a wall. Building a bigger wall will not stop anybody from coming over,” resident Alejandra Gonzalez said.

The way of life may not change, but the sense of community between the cities might.

“The whole vibe would be different,” another resident said.

They say this tall metal fence that splits the two cities and countries works fine the way it is. Changing it may cause more harm than good.

If you head west for an hour to the rural community of Boulevard, Calif. in San Diego County, you will most likely get a different response.

“It has changed a lot since I was a kid,” said Robert Maupin, who lives on the border. “If we get a wall they can’t cut through and drive through …”

“Spending so much money for nothing that they’re going to be able to stop”

The south end of his 250-acre ranch is the border.

He walks the border armed with an AR-10 and has his dogs by his side.

And he has plenty of reasons as to why.

The 77-year-old widower lives here alone.

He knows this property like the back of his hand and can share story after story about what has happened here.

“This is what your fence looks like when it’s hit by a bunch of smugglers – they just drive right through it. that is why I started putting up the chain link,” Maupin said.

The fence built by the government wasn’t good enough for him. So he took his family’s protection into his own hands years ago – even building his own barriers.

The back fence that he has built here with the barbed wire, and he has barbed wire up top to stop people from coming over. And on the other side of this fence is the fence with Mexico that was built by the American government.

Maupin – a Trump supporter – says the wall would bring a sense of security and reduce the illegal crossings and activity.

“I would not mind at all I would even help build it – even at my age,” Maupin said.

He knows the southern border and immigration policies have many Americans up in arms…

“They are oblivious to what is going on and the danger of living here on the border,” Maupin said.

From being held hostage by the Mexican military, to shoot outs – the stories go on. He thinks the wall will change enough.


“As a sovereign nation, you must protect your borders,” Maupin said.

Life on the border is different.

Real said, “I don’t think the resources are being spent the right way.”

Some say no matter what barrier goes up, those desperate enough to get to this side will – one way or another.

Pacheco said, “A saying in Mexico – Mexico so far from God, so close to the United States.”

While some are eager for change, some are still fearful. But regardless, many will be keeping a close eye on what happens next.


President Donald Trump says his proposed border won’t only benefit those on the border – but all Americans. Will it impact people living in the Central Valley?

The Central Valley is a place with an abundance of immigrants. From downtown streets to the rural farmland – it’s easy to say cities like Fresno wouldn’t be what they are today without immigration.

But what if something changed?

About 350 miles south of the Valley at the U.S. and Mexican border, would the construction of a wall help the Valley in the future? Or would that new wall hurt us?

“All of the drugs that come here, especially south of the border – Mexico,” said Robert Pennal, a retired task force commander of the Central Valley high intensity drug trafficking area.

But many say it’s not that simple of an issue.

“We have a lot to lose across all industries,” said Samuel Molina of Mi Familia Vota.

President Trump wants to keep the bad out, but some in the Valley say a wall would do more harm than good.

“There are approximately 200,000 persons who are undocumented within the Central Valley,” Molina said.

Mi Familia Vota is a nonprofit that works to help the Latino community.

“There are approximately 200,000 persons who are undocumented within the Central Valley.”

According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, there are 76,400 farms and ranches in California, and agriculture is a $54 billion industry.

“There are a lot of immigrant farm workers. It is already hurting the ag industry, and it is hurting the tourism industry. It is going to hurt it by billions of dollars,” Molina said.

Finding farm workers is proving to be difficult for farmers up and down the state already. That may get worse without the people to do the job.

“If something like a wall were to be built, it would be very detrimental to our economy – to our communities,” Molina said.

He said undocumented workers come here for a better life, but everyone benefits.

“He has to see what we are doing for the community,” said an undocumented Fresno State student who Eyewitness News is calling “Vanessa” for this story.

Vanessa came to the U.S. at an early age with her family and said they crossed the border illegally.

She said undocumented people have to make a living and take jobs that most won’t do.

“Labor jobs they are doing in the fields – I think they are doing good things out there. If Trump takes out all those people, that is going to be a huge problem,” Vanessa said.

She said jobs in the field and hard labor jobs support our economy.

“Vallarta, Walmart, or any store – that is where they get the food. That is the big issue for the community in general like the United States,” Vanessa said.

Her father, who is a gardener, is a prime example.

“I actually went with him working as a gardener and you know, I didn’t like it. It was hard, you know? So I said ‘I had to go to college. I don’t want that life,’” Vanessa said.

President Trump has said he wants the crime and drugs to stop flowing into the U.S., but the question is, would a wall impact any of that in the Valley?

One incident that got national attention is a homicide case out of Tulare County.

“She had developed a relationship with a man who was here illegally. He had been deported once, if not twice before,” Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux said. “At some point, she wanted to discontinue that relationship. As a result of that, we believe that he killed her.”

Boudreaux explained the case of Cecilia Bravo Cabrera – a mother of four who was last seen leaving Tachi Palace Casino in Lemoore, Calif. on June 9, 2016.

Her car was found torched in an orchard near Traver, Calif.

Deputies arrested her ex – Francisco Valdivia and his other wife from Mexico, Rosalina Lopez, on suspicion of murdering Cabrera.

Deputies arrested her ex – Francisco Valdivia and his other wife from Mexico, Rosalina Lopez, on suspicion of murdering Cabrera.

“This is one of very few cases in the nation that has been taken to the jury without a body for the purposes of prosecution of homicide,” Boudreaux said.

Both suspects are undocumented, according to authorities.

“Regardless of the outcome, immigration enforcement would likely pay close attention to this case,” Boudreaux said.

“As soon as the time is right, you flood the border with 10 vehicles that are all carrying loads”

It’s nothing new that drugs are a problem at the border.

Pennal said, “We are heavily impacted by Mexico here. It is just because of where we are.”

Experts see it here every day.

“That is the biggest thing: coming across the border. Whether you use tunnels, you use human trafficking – whether you just use people smuggling coming across the pedestrian bridge, when you come across that border, you head up north. And we are north,” Pennal said.

“When you come across that border, you head up north. And we are north.”

Pennal knows everything about the drugs in the Valley. He said Interstate 5 and Highway 99 are highways for crime and vital for smugglers.

The billion-dollar drug industry wasn’t built by jumping a fence. It’s all about smuggling the drugs. Whether it’s underground or through the checkpoints.

“It is real simple. If you are watching the border – and as soon as the time is right, you flood the border [checkpoints] with 10 vehicles that are all carrying loads – and let’s say five of them get through and they don’t get picked up … five of your 10 vehicles – you’ve had a great day. You are still going to make a lot of money,” Pennal said.

The secluded areas of the Valley and mountains are why the drugs come here. Then they get distributed to other areas of the country.

“We just have the southern border, and we have the I-5 and 99 corridor. We have seclusion, and we have minimized law enforcement contact,” Pennal said. “You get way up in those mountains – you get into certain locations there is just not a lot of policemen, and that is what they want.”

So the question lingers. Would a wall help these problems enough? Will people and drugs still make it north to the Valley?

Would a wall help these problems enough?

“Anytime you increase security it is going to help somewhere,” Pennal said.

The problems are obvious.

Boudreaux said, “The storyline goes with ‘illegal immigrant kills U.S citizen.’ The reality of it is we have many people in our county who are undocumented and live here without ever committing a crime.”

As the political debate continues in the nation’s Capitol, it is easy to say a lot in communities like the Central Valley will be keeping a close eye on what happens next.



Number of Apprehensions in 2016


Miles (border between the US and Mexico)


Border Patrol Agents


Feet High: Proposed max height of President Trump’s border wall

2007-2016 Nationwide Border Patrol Apprehensions



Web Extra 01



Since 9/11 about 60 tunnels have been discovered along the US – Mexico border, Agent Jose Hernandez shows us where one was filled years ago.

Web Extra 02



The Border Patrol San Diego Sector covers 60 miles, 48 of those miles are fenced. Agent Jose Hernandez shows us where the primary fence ends where the Otay Mountain range begins.

Web Extra 03



Agent Jose Hernandez shows us where the primary fence starts in the Pacific Ocean between Tijuana and San Diego.




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