May 23, 2013 2:03 AM

Union head says border not secure

SOUTH OF SELLS, AZ - Art Del Cueto drove the News 4 Tucson Investigators on a bumpy dirt road through the Tohono O'odham nation, 80 miles southwest of Tucson. Del Cueto is the president of the local border patrol agents union, Local 2544. Del Cueto wanted us to see a fence on the nation's land, which he says has outraged many of his more than 3,300 union members.

Del Cueto of the fence, "This is something that is very well known with the smugglers, the area that where we're at right now, this is the number one area in the entire country for illegal entries, of drugs and of people coming into our country. How hard is it to go over a foot and a half beam? Most of us have steps that are higher. This isn't secure. There's no security there. A three-year old child could just come over that."

The fence, which also is designed to act as a barrier to vehicles, looks like old railroad ties. Apparent evidence of foot travelers was nearby: Water bottles, a tarp and other debris. Del Cueto thinks a 20 foot high fence, such as the one in Nogales, should be erected on Tohono O 'Odham land. But for decades, the sovereign nation has strongly opposed a barrier. Its chairman, Dr. Ned Norris, once said that a wall would be built, "Over my dead body."

The Tohono O'Odham Nation's official website states "...the U.S.-Mexico border has become "an artificial barrier to the freedom of the Tohono O'odham. . . To traverse their lands, impairing their ability to collect foods and materials needed to sustain their culture and to visit family members and traditional sacred sites. O'odham members must produce passports and border identification cards to enter into the United States."

But Border Patrol agent and spokesman Jason Rheinfrank told us, "The fence doesn't, isn't the end-all solution. You know, we build a 25-foot fence, they build a 26 foot ladder.

Rheinfrank says a fence is only one deterrent.

He told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, "We do have technology in place, we do have the sensors in the ground, everyone knows that. We have cameras along the border, we have mobile surveillance systems, we have camera trucks that are deployable anywhere."

There are also more border patrol agents on foot and in vehicles. Their contingent has almost tripled since 9-11. There are now more than 4100 agents in the Tucson sector. Homeland Security officials say the improvements explain why there's been a big drop in illegal immigrants trying to cross. The Border Patrol says in fiscal year 2000, 614,145 apprehensions were made by the Tucson sector; in fiscal year 2012 there were 102, 303 apprehensions. Homeland Security officials attribute the large decline in apprehensions to fewer illegal immigrants trying to cross the border.

Janet Naplitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, said, "There is no question that the border, from a security standpoint, is stronger than it's ever been."

There is also the cost of building a fence. One agent estimates it costs $6,000,000 A mile to put up a fence on flat land where there's already a road, and much more on rough terrain. But union president Del Cueto says money spent on tall fencing would be worth it.

"The truth of the matter," Del Cueto told us, "is the border at this point is still not secure. They take different people down there to the border and they give you what we call the dog and pony show."

Agent Rheinfrank replied, "The fence isn't the end-all solution for border security. It acts as a small part of the bigger picture. The bigger picture being better infrastructure, better technology."

Speaking of better technology, the border patrol is building five new remote video surveillance towers in Nogales, to supplement the 11 towers already deployed there.

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