MCALLEN, Texas (KVEO) — The Rio Grande Valley will soon have more than 100 miles of new border wall in various cities.
The second highest ranking Border Patrol agent in the country visited the RGV to see the progress on border wall construction and tour with local agents.
“The Border Patrol in the RGV continues to be one of the busiest places, so these construction projects are going to do a tremendous benefit for the agents and frontline officers that are out there,” said U.S. Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, “We had about 55 miles of border wall, what we’ve done now is taken on a project to build over 100 miles of border wall system right here in the Rio Grande Valley.”
Ortiz is no stranger to the RGV, previously being stationed in the valley for five and a half years, serving as the Deputy Chief for the sector.
“This was a very problematic area here for me when I was the Deputy Chief down here and I can already tell you we’ve seen a dramatic drop in traffic here and that’s because we don’t have all the complete system in, we still don’t have the gates, the lights, the camera system up, but just the barrier itself has already proved impactful,” said Ortiz.
By October 30th, 2020, Customs and Border Protection plans to have completed 400 miles of new wall along the Southwest border.
However, the wall isn’t the only addition.
“Cameras, sensors on both sides of the road and we’ll have cameras in addition to the enforcement zone cameras on the wall itself, we’re looking at long-range video capability that hadn’t been the case before,” said Ruynard Singleton, Executive Director of the U.S. Border Patrol’s Program Management Office.
The 100 miles of border wall project will be funded by CBP’s Fiscal Year 2018 and 2019 appropriations.
For the first time since the pandemic started CBP says their traffic is starting to pick up.
In 24 hours on Tuesday, there were 615 apprehensions in South Texas and 2,000 arrests for the entire Southwest Border, Ortiz told KVEO.
“Stash houses, tractor trailers, we’ve seen an increase in those- Why? Because they’re all trying to get away. They all know if they’re apprehended by Border Patrol they’re going to be expelled immediately and they’re finding themselves susceptible to smugglers in these stash houses and what does that create? That’s a petri dish for COVID-19, when you put 30 or 40 people in a 2-3 bedroom home, that’s certainly a recipe for disaster,” said Ortiz.
As for the migrants being found by U.S. Border Patrol, currently they’re being processed under Title 42.
“Title 42 is a CDC authority, which has allowed us to expel people immediately based upon this potential threat of COVID-19,” said Ortiz.
It’s a policy Ortiz says has saved countless lives.
“We’ve had over 375,000 encounters so far this year, compared to last year we had 815,000, so can you imagine if we would’ve seen those numbers this year with the COVID threat and having to process those people and ultimately then turn them over to another agency and that certainly would’ve overwhelmed the entire system, so what we’ve been able to do is reduce the risk to our agents and their families and reduce the risk to our border communities,” said Ortiz.
Nearly 1,000 Border Patrol agents have contracted COVID-19 in the last six months with three of them passing away from the virus.