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Border Security: What Works?

Friends of the Sonoran Desert (FSD) understands and supports the concern for border security. But let’s look at the history of the U.S.’s attempts to secure the border for clues about what works and what doesn’t.The “Secure Fence Act” was passed by Congress in 2006, and by August, 2008, 154 miles of vehicle barriers and 190 miles of pedestrian barriers had been placed on the U.S.border with Mexico. Prior to installing vehicle barriers, vehicles transporting illegal entrants were causing horrendous damage to the Sonoran Desert. The vehicle barriers have almost entirely eliminated this type of damage.

Pedestrian barriers (some type of fencing) were erected in densely populated areas like San Diego, CA, and El Paso, TX, and these barriers also have been highly effective. Pedestrian barriers in areas closely observed by Border Patrol agents often slow down illegal immigrants long enough to intercept them. However, a barrier in an area NOT regularly monitored by Border Patrol agents (which describes most of the area proposed for a border wall) would be far less successful, because given enough time, people can go under or over any barrier they confront.

If a border wall would be fairly ineffective at preventing immigrants from entering the U.S., does it still make sense to erect one? Here are some reasons why FSD thinks the answer is no.

  • The border wall will be extraordinarily expensive to build. Cost estimates run into billions of dollars.

  • The Border Patrol would prefer more effective detection tools (such as aerial and technical surveillance equipment) that could be moved quickly where they are most needed, modified to reflect changing field conditions, and purchased for a fraction of the price of a border wall.

  • The economic impacts on communities near the proposed border wall that rely on tourism and commerce with Mexico are projected to be profound. Not only would tourist dollars decrease if wildlife refuges and parks are damaged by the erection of a border wall, owners of private property near the wall will be forced to cede their property to the U.S. government so that the wall can be built on their land.

  • Many species of wildlife would be severely impacted by a wall that impedes access to crucial parts of their home ranges. And unlike humans, who can figure out how to penetrate any barrier given enough time, a Sonoran pronghorn, desert tortoise, or black-tailed jackrabbit will never find a way across the wall to reach crucial resources on the other side.

  • Finally, the health of all U.S. citizens living near the border would be at risk as the government proposes to waive all environmental laws that protect our air, water, and land in order to facilitate the rapid construction of a wall.

We think that it makes sense to find ways to protect our border that are more effective, cost less, don’t severely impact local communities or wildlife, and don’t requiring waiving the environmental laws enacted to protect us. If you agree, contact your Senators and Representatives ( and let them know that you don’t support a border wall.

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