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Border Patrol Agents' Union Confers With Trump On Securing The Border


Let's get some insight into what President-elect Trump might really mean by his pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. That pledge won him many, many supporters, including Border Patrol agent Brandon Judd, who sees the wall as part of a wider security strategy.

BRANDON JUDD: We're excited that we're going to be able to do our job. Under the Obama administration, law enforcement were being handcuffed and the criminals were being let go.

INSKEEP: Judd contends the Border Patrol hasn't been holding all the people it catches crossing the border. Judd leads a union, the National Border Patrol Council, which endorsed Trump and has advised the transition team. Trump initially said his wall would stretch the length of the whole border - more than 1,900 miles - which loom very large in the public imagination, though he has since said the wall could be smaller.

JUDD: The wall is going to be absolutely effective in certain locations. We do not need a wall along the entire 2,000 miles of border. And what I really appreciate about President-elect Trump is he understands that he doesn't know everything. And every single time that I've sat down and spoken with him, we've talked about a wall. We've talked about whether it needs to be the full 2,000 miles of the Southwest border or if we just need it in strategic locations. And he's been willing to listen and that's very refreshing.

INSKEEP: I guess we should remember there are already walls, as well as fences along hundreds of miles of the border. And when you say strategic locations, you put those barriers in places that are easy to cross and in other places you let the harsh landscape do the job for you. Is that right?

JUDD: That is correct.

INSKEEP: And so you would continue with that strategy, maybe just with a little more construction?

JUDD: That is correct. Right now, we only have fencing along approximately 10 to 15 percent of the border right now. We have breaches in those walls all the time. In fact, in Douglas over the weekend, four vehicles drove through a hole that smugglers cut in the Landing Mat fence. And all four vehicles were able to evade detection or apprehension.

INSKEEP: And I'm trying to remember, that's a place where you've got steel bar fencing that's, I don't know, eight, 10, 12 feet high, something like that?

JUDD: Yeah. They were able to cut the fence with a welding torch, drive the vehicles through. And then they closed the hole back up to where it's very, very difficult to detect.

INSKEEP: It sounds to me like what you are hoping comes out of this administration is relatively subtle compared to the rhetoric of the campaign. You'd like some more people to be detained rather than let go. You'd like some more construction on the border where there's already a lot of construction. You want tweaks to the big policy, rather than a gigantic wall or some gigantic sea change.

JUDD: Well, we do want walls in certain locations. We do want a very effective wall. We're not talking about a brick-and-mortar wall. If you build just a brick-and-mortar wall, they're going to come up and they're going to break that wall down. And then it's going to be very, very hard to patch that type wall. You have to build something that is going to be very difficult to defeat.

INSKEEP: Is there a danger in trying to increase border security without changing the incentives? I mean, there are incentives because people need work and they come to the United States for work. And there's not always an easy and legal way for them to get here and do that work.

JUDD: It all goes hand-in-hand. But it all starts with securing the border. If individuals cannot come into the United States illegally, then you can deal with those people that are here. You can't put the cart before the horse, otherwise we're going to be in the same situation that we're in today a few years down the road. Secure the border first, then worry about those individuals that are here illegally.

INSKEEP: So what does secure the border mean to you? Does it mean not a single person ever gets across?

JUDD: It does.

INSKEEP: So in your mind, the border is not secure until illegal immigration is zero?

JUDD: It is.

INSKEEP: Does that mean the border is never actually secure by that definition?

JUDD: No. The border absolutely can be secured. I guarantee that we can secure the border to where we apprehend 100 percent of the individuals that cross illegally.

INSKEEP: I mean, people got across the Berlin Wall. You know, people are pretty innovative.

JUDD: And we also can be innovative. That one of the problems that we face is the cartels that we're up against, the cartels that we're dealing with, they're constantly evolving - we don't. If we integrate intelligence strategy to combat the cartels, we absolutely can be effective - 100 percent effective. We've never tried it.

INSKEEP: Just so that I'm clear on what is proposed and what the timeline is, as best you understand it from the president-elect, if there's not going to be 2,000 miles of wall, how many miles are there going to be?

JUDD: In fact, I was in discussions with the transition team yesterday. If you were to ask me, I would say that we - right now, again, we have about 10 to 15 percent of our border has a - has an actual fence. If I were to quantify an actual number, I would say that we need about 30 percent. Thirty percent of our border has to have an actual fence, comma wall.

INSKEEP: I'm just going to go with your numbers here. You're saying that there is somewhere in the neighborhood of a couple hundred miles of serious fencing right now, and you'd like to see 400 miles with more serious barriers.

JUDD: Approximately, yes.

INSKEEP: That's about what we're talking about. This whole debate has been about a couple of hundred miles of fence?

JUDD: Not the whole debate. The debate's about border security. That's what the debate is about. How can you possibly say that the whole debate has been about a couple hundred miles of wall?

INSKEEP: I'm asking. I'm asking. I'm just - I think some people will be...

JUDD: No. The debate...

INSKEEP: ...It looms so large that I think some people will be surprised that...

JUDD: OK. But the point is - and the point that the President-elect Trump has always been making is that the border is not secure period, it's not secure. How can you consider a border in which agents apprehend one out of every two people that cross the border? Fifty percent, that is not a secure border.

INSKEEP: How soon has Trump or his transition team told you that the border will be secure?

JUDD: They haven't. They're looking at that right now, but there's a lot that has to go into building the fence and wall. But I guarantee it will be done within his administration.

INSKEEP: Brandon Judd, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

JUDD: No problem, appreciate it.

INSKEEP: He's president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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