Border security: Razor wire is a game changer

There is one solution to securing the U.S. borders that should receive more attention: razor wire; it creates a significantly more serious obstacle to every class of fence climber; the one stretch of border fence that does have razor wire (San Ysidro, five miles of it) saw significant drops in all three areas studied — attacks on border agents, illegal crossings, and injuries to illegal immigrants; razor-wire fencing can only be crossed at either end, or at any point that an investment has been made in making a breach (path through the razor wire, hole through the fence, or tunnel under the fence); this means that a stretch of razor-wire fence is reduced to known breaches — making those breaches an enforcement funnel.

I read with interest the Ben Frankel border protection article. I would suggest an additional way to look at the spending on physical (and virtual) fencing along the border — as a way to communicate the level of government competence (currently, not high) regarding border security, and tangentially, immigration reform. There will be no immigration reform until there is significantly improved border security — or some perception of significantly improved border security. Even formerly pro-reform Republicans like Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) and Representative Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) have hardened their stance on security first. DHS must realize that all border spending is PR spending – either good or bad.

The SBInet virtual fence can be counted as bad PR spending — $3.7 billion to trumpet governmental incompetence. And anyone who attended Boeing’s dog-and-pony show at the beginning of SBInet (I attended in Long Beach) could see it coming from the beginning. The physical infrastructure however, most of which does improve security to some degree, also has an element of bad PR — the 12-foot ladder argument (“For every 10-foot fence there’s a 12-foot ladder”) and girls climbing the fence in under twenty seconds (PLUS countless photos of immigrants lined up and crossing the fence in various ways) — make every dollar spent an additional investment in bad PR to the pro-border security lobby.

There is a fencing component that has seen almost zero deployment on the border, which would be less-Swiftian than land mines, yet incredibly cost effective both for security and PR. The component is razor wire. As we like to say, a fence without razor wire is just a climbing wall — or something to prop your ladder against.

Razor wire is a game changer. While not indestructible, it does create a significantly more serious obstacle to every class of fence climber (see photo). The one stretch of border fence that does have razor wire (San Ysidro, five miles of it) saw significant drops in all three areas studied pre- and post-installation — attacks on border agents, crossings, and most-interesting, injuries to illegal immigrants. The drops were over 50 percent in each category. Apparently, a lot of people who climb the tallest fences get hurt jumping down the other side. With razor wire they just don’t climb it.

The DHS representative from the Information and Communication Division who relayed these results to us, said the report is private, and not likely to be published externally. We wonder, why? Our company supplied the razor wire for this section of fencing, and when inquiring about a border tour to see how it was holding up, we asked regarding how many areas had been vandalized in the two years since its installation. We were told that DHS was unaware of any area of vandalism to the razor wire.

While I find that hard to believe (and have not yet toured it personally to confirm this) — the word was that people do not attempt to climb over. They will attempt to cut through in various places (the lower portion of the fence), or move to another area, but apparently the self-preservation instinct keeps people from getting tangled up in the multiple rows, high on the top of the fence.

Of course, my company has a motivating self-interest in seeing razor wire installed along some or all of the border fence — we manufacture razor wire(Razor Wire International of Phoenix, Arizona). But we also have a unique perspective into the effectiveness of this fencing component, and why it is used extensively for corrections, military, international borders and other critical infrastructure security. It is highly effective, and significantly improves every other dollar invested in infrastructure. Plus, it is PR money well spent. Razor wire both looks serious and is serious.

Some people are worried about injuries to illegal crossers that razor wire might cause (the study shows a drop in injuries). Others worry about the message it sends to our southern neighbor. But these are not concerns of the pro-border security lobby. Take ten miles of fencing without razor wire, and it can typically be crossed at any point along the ten miles — requiring constant enforcement of the entire perimeter. Take ten miles of fencing with razor wire, and it can only be crossed at either end, or at any point that an investment has been made in creating a breach (path through the razor wire, hole through the fence, or tunnel under the fence). Suddenly, ten miles is reduced to known breaches — making these breaches an enforcement funnel. This is strategic porosity. Scheduled surveillance and drones can be used to identify and catalog breaches, with enforcement efforts deployed accordingly.

Razor wire will add real security — and positive PR — at a fraction of the cost of virtual fencing. And for the anti-fence advocates, we can call it temporary fencing — until something better comes along. DHS secretary Janet Napolitano must have a PR budget for DHS. She should start spending some of it on strategically deployed razor wire. It might actually convince someone the government is serious about doing more than just spending money.