© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Securing U.S. Boundaries Goes Beyond Wall, Former Border Chief Says


Design proposals for President Trump's border wall are due today. One request for proposals specifies a border wall 30-feet high. It should be impossible to climb and strong enough to resist being smashed by a sledgehammer. The president's initial campaign pledge was for a wall spanning the whole U.S.-Mexico border.

Since then, he has acknowledged that less is needed, and law enforcement experts have been working to tone down the plan. A former chief of the Border Patrol says he would be happy to see more walls than currently exist. But David Aguilar says a wall is just one of many security measures.

DAVID AGUILAR: It has to be, one, well-designed two, well-placed and, three, well-supported. And what I mean by supported - you need the agents, you need the personnel, you need the technology to be able to defend that wall. So it is not just about the wall.

INSKEEP: We talked with Aguilar before his testimony today. He says if it were up to him, he'd want a variety of barriers plus more technology, some extra drones, better intelligence about who is approaching the border from Mexico and more agents for the Border Patrol.

AGUILAR: Well, the Border Patrol needs to be expanded. It needs to be expanded again because if there is going to be an expansion of technology and infrastructure on the border, the bad guys, the cartels, the people looking to come illegally into the country - they make adjustments, so there's a reaction. Every time that we take actions, you have to have enough resources to maintain that level of control that you've gained and then continue expanding.

INSKEEP: Weren't you with the Border Patrol in the period when it did expand dramatically and in years later it was concluded that a lot of people were recruited who just weren't qualified, it was hard to find enough qualified applicants who could pass security checks?

AGUILAR: Well, the time period that you're talking about is 2006 to 2008, almost 2009, where we doubled the size of the Border Patrol. We did it in a period of about two and a half years. Was that too quick of a period? I would have preferred to have done it over a lengthier time. But the political drivers was pushing for that. So we hired on the individuals that we could at that time with the capabilities that we had.

Now, we can't forget that that group of men and women is what has brought the levels of control that we have to the border now. If the chief of police for New York City have reduced crime by over 89 percent which is close to what the illegal immigration drop was over that time period, he would have gotten a ticker-tape parade.

INSKEEP: You just raise an interesting point. Illegal immigration is down. Do we need to spend billions more on that particular problem right now given what you just said?

AGUILAR: We need to spend what is necessary in order to continue enhancing the security of the country. What you didn't mention was the continuing threats of terrorist actors coming into this country because that threat exists today. Too often we don't talk about it within the context of the border.

Look, I've said it before. A border patrol agent that encounters an individual crossing the border right now - until the interdiction is made, that agent is not aware if that person is looking for a better way of life or looking for a way to destroy our way of life. It is critically important that we secure our borders.

INSKEEP: Although when you mentioned that, it makes me think about who has committed recent attacks in the United States. And it's people who came on visas, people who've overstayed visas, people who are permanent residents, people who are born in the United States, who have come here one way or another that doesn't involve an illegal border crossing. Should we be focusing more in that area than paying so much attention to border security?

AGUILAR: Well, Steve, you ask a very important question, and the answer is, yes, we should be focusing on all of those things. It shouldn't be just any one thing. When we talk about the border, it automatically goes to the border wall. Well, it goes way beyond the border wall, and we talk about the threats and vulnerabilities to this country. It is way beyond the border also.

INSKEEP: What counts as a secure border to you? Is it zero people crossing illegally? Is that what is necessary to feel secure?

AGUILAR: As I've often said before, one of the things that we need to do is define what we want the border to look like. Let me give you an example of what I would see as a safe border, a border where both countries have a high level of confidence that they have mitigated to the highest degree possible the risks of criminal operatives, terrorist operatives and breach - illegal breaching of the border has occurred.

INSKEEP: How important is a very strong working relationship with Mexico to securing the border?

AGUILAR: Critically important, critically important with Mexico and with Canada. Look, the way I describe a relationship that exists today is in the following fashion. When I entered on duty in 1978 as a young Border Patrol agent, it wasn't just me but the Border Patrol as a whole. The last people that you would call for assistance anytime that something happened on the border was the Mexican Representatives. There was no trust. There was no capabilities.

Well, fast forward to today - Mexican and Canadian officials are the first ones that we call upon when something is happening along our nation's border either north or south. We have a an interest of having both Canada and Mexico as our staunchest allies when it comes to criminal activities, when it comes to cartel activities, when it comes to illegal immigration, when it comes to terrorist actors.

INSKEEP: Chief Aguilar, thanks very much.

AGUILAR: Thank you, sir.

INSKEEP: David Aguilar is a principal at Global Security and Innovative Strategies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.