Border Security: The San Diego Fence Page: 2 of 6
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The United States Border Patrol (USBP) is the lead federal agency charged with
securing the U.S. international land border with Mexico and Canada. The USBP's San
Diego sector is located north of Tijuana and Tecate, Mexican cities with a combined
population of 2 million people, and features no natural barriers to entry by unauthorized
migrants and smugglers.2 As part of the "Prevention Through Deterrence" strategy, which
called for reducing unauthorized migration by placing agents and resources directly on the
border abutting population centers, in 1990 the USBP began erecting a physical barrier
to deter illegal entries and drug smuggling in the San Diego sector using the broad powers
granted to the Attorney General (AG) to control and guard the U.S. border.3 The ensuing
"primary" fence was completed in 1993 and covered the first 14 miles of the border,
starting from the Pacific Ocean, and was constructed of 10-foot-high welded steel.4 This
fence (and the subsequent three-tiered fence, see discussion below) was constructed with
the assistance of the Department of Defense's (DOD's) Army Corps of Engineers.
According to the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the primary
fence, in combination with various labor intensive USBP enforcement initiatives along
San Diego border region (i.e., Operation Gatekeeper), proved to be quite successful but
fiscally and environmentally costly.5 For example, as undocumented aliens and smugglers
breached the primary fence and attempted to evade detection, USBP agents were often
forced to pursue the suspects through environmentally sensitive areas. It soon became
apparent to immigration officials and lawmakers that the USBP needed, among other
things, a "rigid" enforcement system that could integrate infrastructure (i.e., a multi-tiered
fence and roads), manpower, and new technologies to further control the border region.
The concept of a three-tiered fence system was first recommended by a 1993 Sandia
Laboratories study commissioned by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
The study concluded that aliens attempting to enter the United States from Mexico had
shown remarkable resourcefulness in bypassing or destroying obstacles in their path,
including the existing primary fence, and postulated that "[a] three-fence barrier system
with vehicle patrol roads between the fences and lights will provide the necessary
discouragement."6 Congress responded to these enforcement needs, in part, with the
passage of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act (IIRIRA)
of 1996.' This comprehensive law, among other things, expanded the existing fence by
2 U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Operation Gatekeeper: An
Investigation Into Allegations of Fraud and Misconduct, July 1998.
3 See e.g., 8 U.S.C. 1103 (a)(5).
4 U.S. Government Accountability Office, Border Control -Revised Strategy is Showing Some
Positive Results, GAO/GGD-95-30, January 31, 1995.
s See California Coastal Commission, W 13a Staff Report and Recommendation on Consistency
Determination, CD-063-03, October 2003, at 14-16 (stating that construction of the primary fence
significantly assisted the USBP' s efforts in deterring smuggling attempts via drive-throughs using
automobiles and motorcycles). (Hereafter CCC Staff Report.)
6 Peter Andreas, "The Escalation of U.S. Immigration Control in the Post-NAFTA Era," Political
Science Quarterly, vol. 113, no. 4, winter 1998-1999, p. 595.
S 5ee P.L. 104-208, Div. C. IIRIRA was passed as part of the Omnibus Consolidated
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Border Security: The San Diego Fence, report, May 23, 2007; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc808731/m1/2/: accessed December 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.