HARI SREENIVASAN: Perhaps the most repeated theme in Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaign is building a bigger, better, border wall.
Currently, a fence runs along 652 miles of the almost 2,000-mile border. And many residents on both sides doubt a new wall is a solution to the problems they face.
Special correspondent Angela Kocherga with Arizona PBS’ Cronkite News reports from Nogales.
ANGELA KOCHERGA: Every evening, Melissa Biskofsky and her dog take a walk.
MELISSA BISKOFSKY, Nogales, Arizona Resident: I love my walks, and my dog loves them too.
ANGELA KOCHERGA: Her favorite route runs along the border fence in Arizona.
MELISSA BISKOFSKY: The fence — well, yes, there is a fence, but I say to hello to everybody on the other side of the fence.
DONALD TRUMP (R), Presidential Nominee: We’re going to have a strong border. We’re going to have the wall. We’re going to have the wall.
ANGELA KOCHERGA: With all the talk of building a big wall, some Americans may not realize illegal immigration from Mexico is at a historic low. And there has never been more security on the Southwest border, including hidden ground sensors, cameras. This one offers a view from a blimp high above West Texas.
And the Border Patrol has never had more agents, 21,000 in all. About 650 miles of fence exist in strategic spots along the nearly 2,000-mile Southwest border, from California, where the structure extends into the Pacific Ocean, to Texas, where it runs parallel to the Rio Grande.
Fernando Flores Barrera can see the fence in Tijuana from his front yard. The construction worker has crossed back and forth for decades to work on U.S. job sites. He says Donald Trump should think twice about building a border wall.
FERNANDO FLORES BARRERA, Tijuana, Mexico Resident (through translator): He should let immigrants work, instead of blocking their path. Just as we help them, the Americans, by working, they should give us a hand. You need us too.
ANGELA KOCHERGA: On the U.S. side of the border, Callai Hernandez also questions the need for Trump’s $25 billion wall, since there’s a big fence in place now.
CALLAI HERNANDEZ, Eagle Pass, Texas Resident: I don’t think there’s a need for it. We don’t feel unsafe or anything.
ANGELA KOCHERGA: Her son’s soccer team practices in Eagle Pass right near the international border, the banks of the Rio Grande. One of longest sections of border fence cuts through the Desert Southwest.
The fence is found in the middle of bustling border cities like Nogales, where, here, it’s part of the landscape, a fixture, a fact of life.
Biskofsky has a view of the rust-colored fence from her home perched on a hill in Nogales, Arizona.
MELISSA BISKOFSKY: When they have parties on the other side, you can hear the music on Saturdays or Fridays. They’re pretty loud.
ANGELA KOCHERGA: She’s so close to the border, people trying to sneak into the U.S. sometimes cut through her backyard.
During our interview, Yemmi (ph) and other neighborhood dogs noticed this man. Before long, Border Patrol agents spotted him too.
Many border residents doubt a new wall will keep people from trying to cross, or deter drug traffickers at all. Biskofsky doesn’t have to look far for proof. Two years ago, authorities discovered a 481-foot drug smuggling tunnel in the basement of the home she now rents.
MELISSA BISKOFSKY: Well, this is where they would get the drugs.
ANGELA KOCHERGA: The entrance is now sealed. The previous tenant chose the property because of its proximity to the border.
MELISSA BISKOFSKY: Well, when he first arrived, the neighbors told me that he was dressed in white and he was carrying a Bible. He had a dog called El Chapo. And, yes, the neighbors, after everything transpired, yes, that’s when they found it suspicious that his dog was called El Chapo.
ANGELA KOCHERGA: As in convicted drug trafficker Chapo Guzman, who authorities say has used tunnels, including the one in this house, to move tons of drugs into the U.S., in spite of a border fence.
These days, Biskofsky is patching up holes in her own fence.
MELISSA BISKOFSKY: If you go along the fence, every so often, you see a hole, because she’s been digging all along the fence to see where she can get out.
ANGELA KOCHERGA: More proof fences everywhere are not 100 percent effective.
MELISSA BISKOFSKY: Building a wall, and being against building the wall, I think it’s still not addressing the real problem.
ANGELA KOCHERGA: So far, there has no political will to deal with the root causes of immigration and the growing demand for drugs. Instead, during this hotly contested presidential race, much of the talk has been about building a bigger border wall, a questionable solution, according to many of those who live in the shadow of the border fence.
MELISSA BISKOFSKY: Because it cannot separate these communities.
ANGELA KOCHERGA: For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Angela Kocherga in Nogales, Arizona.