Night watch: Protecting you where fences won't

Posted at 11:16 PM, May 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-04 02:25:23-04

Much has been made this political season about building a giant wall along our border with Mexico. But many people may not realize there are spots where the terrain is so rugged that a wall, much less a fence, can’t be built.

One area in particular is just a few short miles from the heart of San Diego. U.S. Border Patrol Agents took our 10News crew along for a ride to see how they protect you where there are no walls to stop smugglers.

Night Watch With the U.S. Border Patrol

As darkness falls on the U.S.-Mexico border, a dangerous night is just beginning for Border Patrol Agents.

"Here in the San Diego Sector the U.S. Border Patrol has a lot more activity during the night hours," says U.S. Border Patrol Agent Wendi Lee, as ATVs ready for duty whiz past.

The border with Tijuana is one of the most active areas for illegal crossings because immigrants, some heavily armed, can blend in quickly with the community. But before they can, Border Agents are patrolling anywhere their SUVs can reach or on ATVs, on foot or horseback checking for tracks.

"It's rough terrain,” says Lee, carefully navigating a road running along the border fence near Otay Mountain. “The weather drops very quickly out here, especially up on the mountain."

It’s an area so rugged, many people don't know this, but the border fence just stops. Without a protective barrier between the United States and Mexico the area is considered dangerous, especially at night because of drug traffickers and smugglers. Agents allowed us just a few minutes to see for ourselves.

“We do get a lot of bottles being thrown over in this area so just be careful,” Agent Lee warns as we approach the end of the fence.

Out here it’s a constant game of cat and mouse between the Border Patrol and smugglers. As an example, Agent Lee describes how illegal immigrants attempt to seriously injure agents patrolling on ATVs to create a distraction, allowing others to cross illegally along another section of the fence.

“We’ve had incidents where they put wire across the road so agents, as soon as they’re coming down the road, they hit the wire and it could easily hurt them,” says Lee.

Even where there is fence, patches cover spots where it's been cut. And on the night we rode along with Border Patrol Agents, a fresh hole was discovered below a portion of the fence where immigrants tried to dig under.

"The fence looks like Swiss cheese in a lot of places,” says Border Patrol Agent D. Spear, sitting on his ATV after an early evening patrol. “You can just see by looking at how persistent these smugglers are in terms of pushing their contraband through. And it never ends."

But on this night it did end for four immigrants. They were abandoned by their smuggler; they got lost, and were spotted 100 yards away only as their silhouettes crossed the setting sun.

"And so I saw the shadows go by," says U.S. Border Patrol Supervisor L. Barragan, laughing as if it were just a stroke of luck spotting the illegal immigrants.

We ask what might have happened if it were any darker.

"Then we rely on scopes," adds Agent Barragan.

Agent Barragan is referring to the powerful infrared cameras which can see for miles and are high atop the Otay Mountains.

"The way it works is it detects body heat or anything that emits heat," says U.S. Border Patrol Agent W. Thompson, watching a live feed of the night vision camera.

His job is to move the camera remotely across the mountain range. When he spots suspicious movement far below he works to guide the ATVs, horseback riders, or agents on foot to check it out and if needed capture those crossing illegally.

It’s a constant supervision 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

"Correct, that’s where the man power, infrastructure, and technology all working together, that’s what makes the Border Patrol strong," says Agent Lee.

After questioning it’s determined the four immigrant men were Mexican nationals. Yet we're told the most alarming number of immigrants crossing here lately are Chinese. There were just five captured crossing illegally two years ago. That number jumped to 55 last year. And in just a few short months this year,
"This year, fiscal year 2016 alone and we haven't even finished the year, more than 600 undocumented immigrants from China."