Despite the popularity of calls to build a fence along the entire U.S. southern border, some border officials claim that the existing barriers have not been effective at preventing migrants and smugglers from crossing the border illegally.

According to a recent Washington Post investigation, the 649 miles of fencing along the1,969-mile U.S. southern border, while reducing illegal vehicle traffic and serving as a first line of defense against border crossings in some cases, is far from impenetrable. “Without the fencing we wouldn’t have as much time, but nothing is going to stop them from going over or cutting through it,” a Border Patrol employee told the Post. Migrant smugglers often simply use ladders and ropes to transport their human cargo over the barriers, and authorities are constantly finding new cross-border drug smuggling tunnels, as InSight Crime has reported.

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One major challenge is that the upkeep of the barriers is costly. A 2009 Government Accountability Office report estimates that repairs will cost around $6.5 billion over the next two decades. Despite this, calls to “complete the danged fence” have been popular amongst politicians for the past several years, with Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich even signing a pledge to support the construction of a “double fence” last month.

In place of the physical barriers, evidence suggests that the netowork of sensors, cameras and drones currently in use by border officials is far more effective. A migrant smuggler told the Post that his job has been made much more difficult because of this. “There is too much surveillance now, the Migra [Border Patrol] has cameras everywhere.”

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