SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - As President Trump continues his call for a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, experts say the one already in place is doing an excellent job at deterring illegal immigration.
San Diego has had some form of a "wall" for decades. On a tour in June with 10News Anchor Steve Atkinson, Rodney Scott, the Chief of the Customs and Border Protection San Diego Sector, said a lot has changed in the last 20 years.
"I would argue during the 90s the extreme was total lawlessness," Scott said. "The fence behind me was chain link, riddled with holes."
Scott described working as an agent and watching large crowds of people gather near the fence at twilight. They would then run across en masse once it got dark.
"There was a green flag to come out, and they would all rush when the sun went down," he said.
That started to change in the later part of the decade.
In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton signed Operation Gatekeeper into law. It was one of three operations to add infrastructure and technology to the border to help curb illegal immigration. Gatekeeper led to the start of the fence that's in place now.
CBP says it led to a 75% drop in illegal immigration arrests over the next few years.
But Scott said he still saw people making their way across, primarily through the area of the Tijuana River Estuary.
"Even up until the early 2000s, if you were standing here at night you would have seen little bonfires all over this area," he said. "There were trails as wide as cars, and that was purely from foot traffic."
The next wave of border security started in 2006 when President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fences Act. It called for nearly 700 miles of physical fencing along the southern border.
Government numbers show the flow of illegal immigrants peaked in the U.S. in 2006, with more than 1,000,000 arrests. In 2018, that number had gone down to around 396,000.
"That basically started closing the border," said Dr. Alejandra Castaneda, a leading researcher on immigration and the border for El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana.
"Clinton started it, but it was really the Bush administration, especially after 9/11. And then the Obama Administration simply continued that project and finished it," she said.
Castaneda said the wall built during that time was meant to be imposing.
"I think a lot of people in the U.S. that don't live at the border don't know that there is already a wall," she said.
Because of Gatekeeper and Secure Fences, right now the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego has 12 miles of double fencing that stretches from the coast to the Otay Mesa Port of Entry.
After that, there are another 43 miles of "primary" fencing into and through the mountains in the eastern part of the county.
Scott said the San Diego Sector has become the blueprint for the rest of the border.
"I call this our proof of concept," he says. "We've proved that border security works. And this is, by far, the most secure part of the U.S. border anywhere in the country."