Category Archives: US-Mexican Border

Border Wall History Lessons


SDUT

Competition to build President Donald Trump’s border wall is underway with 467 companies nationwide, including 23 from San Diego, submitting bids and designs to construct what was a centerpiece promise of Trump’s campaign.

Fencing and barriers are nothing new along the U.S.-Mexico border. For nearly 30 years, fencing made from landing mats, steel mesh and concrete-filled steel bollards have been erected along nearly 700 miles of the border.

Much of that was constructed between 2007 and 2015, when the government spent an estimated $2.5 billion on border fencing projects. The work was done in populated border areas, including San Diego, and along desert mesas and in small towns in Arizona and Texas.

Much remains unknown about Trump’s wall, like what it would look like, how much it would cost, and how much more of the 2,000-mile Southwest border it would cover.

Yet a look back at some of the fencing projects undertaken during the border building boom and what has happened since they were completed can give a sense of what may be in store for border residents if the wall is constructed.

From Smuggler’s Gulch in San Diego, which was filled in with nearly 2 million cubic yards of dirt to form a massive berm after a years-long legal battle, to the Lower Rio Grande area of Texas, border barriers and fencing have helped reduce the number of people entering the United States illegally.

And they have also left a mark on the landscape that critics said have led to other problems such as flooding and erosion.

“It’s not just build the wall and forget about it,” said Oscar Romo, a researcher with UC San Diego who coordinated the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve‘s coastal training program for about a decade. “There are consequences, and we are paying for some of those consequences.”

Smuggler’s Gulch

In July 2009, a group of jubilant federal officials gathered in Smuggler’s Gulch for a ceremonial ribbon cutting ceremony atop a giant earthen berm.

It marked the completion, in less than a year, of a border construction and fencing project that sealed off what had for decades been a prime route for smugglers and unauthorized immigrants.

Contractors scraped about 1.5 million cubic yards of dirt from two mesas bordering the canyon, constructing a berm more than 100 feet high. They also added a second layer of steel mesh fencing, augmenting an existing fence, and constructed a road for U.S. Border Patrol vehicles at a cost of $48.6 million.

The Smuggler’s Gulch work was one of the more expensive stretches of fencing constructed on the border, costing about $16 million per mile. And one of the most controversial.

The project faced stiff opposition, including a 2004 lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club, San Diego Audubon Society and other environmental groups. They contended the project would add large amounts of sediment and damage to the nearby Tijuana River Estuary.

But in 2005, Congress passed legislation that allowed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to waive all laws — state, local and federal — that could impede the construction of border fencing projects.

After the ribbon cutting ceremony, contractors and some of the federal officials left. But the controversy did not.

In the fall of 2009, critics complained that the government had botched a critical aspect of the work — reseeding the barren dirt slopes with vegetation to control erosion and runoff.

The then-leader of the California Coastal Commission fired off a letter in October saying the re-vegetation plan had “failed miserably,” largely because after seeding the slopes the federal government had not irrigated them properly.

Congresswoman Susan Davis, D-San Diego, also wrote a letter, as did the manager of the estuary reserve, expressing concern that the bare slopes would increase sediment flowing to the estuary. Storms the previous winter, when construction was underway, flooded the river valley and left behind what residents said was an unusual amount of mud.

In response, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said they were following a proper plan to revegetate the slopes and care for the environment.

Today, the berm slope is thick with vegetation, covering more than 70 percent of the area, said Mark Endicott, supervisory Border Patrol agent for the San Diego Sector.

The work was done over the past five years in conjunction with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as well as the San Diego County and California parks departments.

The plants have lessened the amount of sediment flowing into the estuary, Endicott said. Erosion pins that measure slope stability showed an average change in the height of the soil of 0.5 centimeters in 2014 to 2015, then 0.1 centimeters the following year.

“The successful revegetation of the area has resulted in little to no sedimentation into the estuary as a result of the fence project,” Endicott said.

Romo, who has worked in the valley for three decades, said other problems have occurred since the fence was built.

A concrete culvert constructed at the base of the berm now captures water from Mexico and the U.S. and funnels it into a channel. Romo said the culvert has increased the velocity of the water flowing into the channel, with damaging effect. The channel is eroding quickly, and more importantly the increased speed of the water is pushing the trash and sediment farther into the estuary than before.

Trash is now building up in parts of the reserve where it was not before, Romo said. Hauling the trash out of the environmentally sensitive estuary will be tedious and difficult, but eventually it will have to be done, he said.

“They modified the topography and created additional problems,” Romo said. The urgency to build — because of a congressional mandate in 2006 to construct at least 700 miles of fencing and barriers to make it harder for people to enter the U.S. illegally from Mexico — created problems.

“By doing this in a rush,” said Romo as he stood in front of the massive culvert where the river flows into the canyon, “they did not mitigate this well.”

But the fence has achieved its main purpose — to help reduce the number of unauthorized immigrants entering the U.S., Endicott said.

The number of apprehensions in the San Diego Sector has dropped significantly, from 118,721 in 2009 when the fencing was complete to 31,891 last year.

That drop tracks an overall decline in apprehensions across the Southwest border that has been trending down for a decade, before beginning to tick up slightly in 2015.

Organ Pipe in Arizona

Around the time that work on Smuggler’s Gulch was starting, another section of fence was being constructed to the east in Arizona.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument lies next to the international border, about two hours west of Tucson. In early 2008, the government built 5.2 miles of steel mesh fencing there. Activists and monument land managers said at the time they were concerned that the design would block the flow of water across the border, possibly causing floods.

But the Homeland Security Department went ahead with the $21.3 million project built by Omaha, Neb., company Kiewit. The same company built the Smuggler’s Gulch project.

A storm in July 2008 dumped about 2 inches of rain in less than 90 minutes around the border crossing town of Lukeville. The fence, even with wide iron grates at the base to allow water to flow through, essentially acted like a dam. Debris stuck against the bottom, blocking the water flow and causing flooding to the nearby port of entry as well as at businesses in Lukeville.

One company unsuccessfully sued the government for $6 million for flood damage and property loss. In the aftermath, the government installed a series of gates in the fence near Lukeville that would be lifted in times of flooding to allow water to pass through.

Then, in August 2011, another summertime storm hit — but the gates didn’t work as planned. Debris again built up at the base of the fence causing not only flooding but also knocking over a 40-foot-long section of the fence.

Randy Serraglio, Southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the problem at Organ Pipe stemmed from the Department of Homeland Security not listening to local land managers at the monument site and area landowners who warned about the flooding dangers.

“They were told by the land manager at Organ Pipe it was not a good location to put up the infrastructure they were trying to build there,” Serraglio said. “They just really rushed forward blindly with construction.”

There has been no reported flooding in the area for several years. Border agents now routinely go on patrol and clear debris from the base of the fence, Serraglio said.

Lessons learned

Trump’s proposal for a wall is moving quickly but also hitting resistance. Customs and Border Protection is reviewing bids and hopes to select by June up to 20 companies to construct prototypes in San Diego.

In testimony this month before Congress, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said a solid border wall would not be built “from sea to shining sea.” Instead, he said, the department would build a wall where agents and immigration enforcement officials say one is needed.

Those who are concerned about more fencing along the border welcome such comments. “DHS should take away from what happened at Organ Pipe that there are some places where you should not build a border wall. Period,” Serraglio said.

The pressure to begin construction though is troubling to some. Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, who is also the executive director of the environmental group Wildcoast, which opposed the Smuggler’s Gulch project, said the rush to build and not weighing thoroughly what the potential problems are is the wrong course.

“That is what I get concerned about, in this rush to build a wall,” Dedina said. “We are talking about some of the most remote parts of the country. It’s simplistic to think you can plan this kind of a fence project without thinking through the engineering and earthworks that will be needed in some areas.”

The federal government spent $2.5 billion to build nearly 700 miles of fencing. Estimates for the wall Trump wants to build vary widely, from a $21 billion Homeland Security Department estimate to $38 billion in an MIT study.

In a March 28 letter to Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, wrote that the Homeland Security budget request for the coming year calls for $2.6 billion to build less than 75 miles of fence.

McCaskill said the figures came from a briefing CBP officials gave to members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

She pointed out the $2.6 billion request works out to a cost of $36.6 million per mile, or a total cost for the border’s 1,827 miles of $66.9 billion.

The per-mile estimate is more than than twice the per-mile cost for the Smuggler’s Gulch project eight years ago.

Scenic Road Status Report


foto por El Vigia

Highlight of my trip south from San Diego to Ensenada was the front end loader staring me down on the highway at K95 of Salsipuedes as I drove around a quick curve.  Went from 60mph to stop in a hurry and checked rear mirror to hope followers’ brakes were working well.  That machine was packing down new blacktop.  Two flag dudes plus two more supervisors were “What, me worry?”.  Yep,  cows, horses, no tail lights at night and front end loaders are all part of your encounters on the superhighway on the coast.  Had to do a diaper check.

Geezo the K 94-95 area is getting bumpy again.  How are those geologic studies going on the fault zone?

More TJ-Ens highlights:

The large pot hole at El Chaparral/TJ crossing is still prominent,  just before bridge across the Rio, right lane.

Hwy 1 toll booth traffic was backed up to approx 20 car line, likely due to entrococcus scientists doing field work on the beaches.

Wonder when the new toll booth will open on Hwy 1 at Popotla?

Gasoline is 16.82 per liter in Ensenada.  Now the gas rate and exchange rate are about equal.  Approx $3.75usd/gallon.  Paid $2.78 Tuesday in San Diego.

La Mision beach was packed.  Apparently the enterococcus crisis has not hit that beach or the contamination is simply not being monitored there.

Adjusted my reconnection to Hwy 1 on south end of Ensenada.  I’m done with the moon craters on Estancia and now enjoying the smooth pavement 1/2 mile south on Las Palmas at end of beach to jog inland back to hwy 1.  FYI, Palmas is the southern edge of Smart & Final store on hwy 1.

White markings are on pot holes on Tramo de Muerte(Hwy 1 on south end of Ensenada toward Maneadero).  Are these signs of alien invaders or is there a plan to smooth up that hot mess of pavement this year?

sobrio= sober        ebrio = drunk

Reading local(Ensenada/Tijuana) newspapers is my morning coffee pleasure.  There is always at least one article about a new financial outlay for infrastructure and at least one article on past infrastructure money losses/corruption every day.  Shoveling is not so frequent on infrastructure, but is very prevalent on the money losses.

Border Wall Design Prototypes


UTSD

President Donald Trump’s proposed wall with Mexico will kick off in the San Diego border community of Otay Mesa, U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed Monday.

The community is home to one of two border crossings in San Diego and will be the site where 20 chosen bidders will erect prototypes of the envisioned wall. Winners will be selected around June 1, the agency said.

While funding for the massive infrastructure project is still not set, up to 450 companies submitted designs last week. The agency’s bid said roughly 20 companies will be selected to build the prototypes — 30 feet long and up to 30 feet high.

The models will be built on a roughly quarter-mile strip of federal land within 120 feet of the border, said a U.S. official with knowledge of the plans quoted by The Associated Press.

Border Patrol spokesman Ralph DeSio did not say exactly where the construction will take place, saying only that it would occur in the Otay Mesa area. He added that plans were subject to change.

Of the possible border locations in the region, building the prototypes near the Otay Mesa crossing makes the most sense because it allows companies to test out designs in a heavily trafficked area that still has room and flexibility, according to Eric Frost, director of San Diego State University’s graduate program in homeland security.

Frost, interviewed before the location was confirmed by the federal agency, said Otay Mesa would be a better place to start than the desert to the east or near a river — often empty locales.

“A lot of trucks already use it,” he said of the Otay Mesa crossing. “You want to look at how they actually interact with the fence.”

Construction of the models, which will likely take place in June, may attract protesters, but law enforcement officials said they were committed to supporting First Amendment rights.

“As part of our community policing philosophy, we work closely with any party or group that wishes to express their views in a law abiding manner,” San Diego police spokesman Lt. Scott Wahl said in a statement.

Officials declined to say if officers or deputies would be on site while the construction takes place, but made clear the location will be monitored by law enforcement agencies and Customs and Border Protection.

Security was already an issue for companies bidding on the wall. In a Q&A on FedBizOpps, the federal contracts website, some bidders asked what would happen if employees came under attack during construction, if they could use firearms in states with stricter gun laws and if the government would provide legal assistance if they had to use deadly force.

Customs and Border Protection officials said it would respond if needed to an attack, but that companies were responsible for their own security. The agency also would not waive state gun laws or provide legal support for deadly force.

Beyond just prototypes, CNN said it reviewed documents revealing that wall construction could start in San Diego. The initial $999 million request would fund 14 miles of new wall along the city’s border with Mexico, 28 miles of new levee wall barriers and six miles of new border wall in the Rio Grande Valley region. The request would also cover 14 miles of replacement fencing in San Diego, CNN said.

Frost said San Diego would be a good place to start the wall, as opposed to Texas where rivers and private property will likely complicate construction. Those locations are also a long way from resources needed for building.

“You’re not spending all your transportation out to nowhere,” he said.

Frost added the wall could be a benefit to both nations if, for example, it helps alleviate notoriously slow wait times for trucks crossing through Otay Mesa. He envisions an “intelligent wall” with sensors and wireless technology that can start tracking trucks before they reach a border guard, speeding up the process to move goods between the two nations.

“There’s a positive in here, if you can design a wall that works way better,” Frost said.

Funding for the wall has not been secured. Trump said during the election that Mexico would pay for the wall but has since sought out federal money. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that in a recent meeting with Mexico Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray they did not discuss Mexico paying for the wall.

Border Wall by San Diego Contractors


Bajadock: I would like to hear exactly how the new border wall “pushes” Mexican companies away from the US, according to professor James Gerber of San Diego State University.

kpbs.org

San Diego-based companies that want to help build President Donald Trump’s border wall are rushing to submit proposals before the deadline next Wednesday.

Finalists selected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection will have to build a 30-foot long prototype in San Diego. Hundreds of companies across the U.S. have expressed interest in bidding.

Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, said it’s no surprise the government wants to start the border wall in San Diego, since it’s the second-largest Border Patrol sector. San Diego was also the place where the first border fence was erected.

“For a very long time San Diego was really ground zero for the Border Patrol in terms of illegal entries,” Moran said. “And it’s an area that has deep ties with government contractors and also have a large availability of area and diverse terrain where we can test our different strategies or technology.”

The Department of Homeland Security filed two requests for proposals last week, one for a concrete barrier and one for a barrier made of “other” materials permitting visibility of Mexico.

The wall must be between 18 and 30 feet tall and “aesthetically pleasing” on the U.S. side. It must prevent tunneling and climbing and resist a physical breach for at least one hour when exposed to a sledgehammer, a car jack, a pick axe and several other tools. A 10-by-10 foot version of the wall must be built and tested in San Diego, giving local companies an advantage because they know the terrain.

RELATED: San Diego Companies Wait To Bid On Trump’s Border Wall

It’s unclear whether construction on the wall will focus on the 1,300 miles that remain unfenced, or whether officials plan to rebuild the existing 700 miles of fencing – made of steel columns, corrugated steel plates and other materials.

Currently, about 700 miles of fencing exist along the 2,000-mile border betwe...

KPBS NEWS

Currently, about 700 miles of fencing exist along the 2,000-mile border between the U.S. and Mexico.

One San Diego-based company that wants to build the wall is R.E. Staite Engineering, located on the San Diego Bay next to the naval base. It has led major construction projects all along the continent’s West Coast and led cleanup efforts after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

“We’re attracted to very complex, difficult projects in harsh environments – that’s what we do best,” said Ralph Hicks, vice president of governmental affairs.

Hicks said the company sees the wall as an economic opportunity for the region.

“We’re focused on the work. We’re not a political body, left or right or what have you, we go after the job and provide high paying jobs for our workforce and great opportunities for our company,” he said.

Most of the companies that have expressed interest in building the wall, including those led by Mexicans and a Puerto Rico-based company, have told reporters that they are interested for apolitical reasons.

Another San Diego company that wants to get involved is vScenario, which offers building planning services that harness technology and security expertise of former military professionals. Vice president Brian Holley said the company wants to help the government visualize the wall in the early stages, to avoid costly adjustments down the line.

“If the wall goes forward, that’s a decision by the president, by Washington, and we as a business and as taxpayers just simply want to make sure the wall is done in a cost-effective, productive way,” Holley said.

vScenario has specialized in security around electrical power grid facilities.

“If we were to be doing sections of this wall, we will continue to hire veterans and I think it’s a great way to bring back those patriots into our society and get them into the business world,” Holley said.

James Gerber, a professor of economics at San Diego State University, said border fence construction in the late 1990s created a lot of jobs, but that they were temporary.

The San Diego-based company vScenario created a 3D model of the existing bord...

VSCENARIO / KORUS

The San Diego-based company vScenario created a 3D model of the existing border fence to plan the wall.

“It’s like building a pyramid in the desert. Yeah, you get some jobs out of that, but the jobs disappear once the construction is finished,” he said.

Some estimates put the border wall construction cost upwards of $20 billion. Trump has claimed that Mexico will reimburse the U.S. for those expenses, but it remains unclear how that would happen. Mexican leaders, including President Enrique Peña Nieto, have vowed repeatedly that Mexico will never pay for the wall.

Gerber said the economic impact on the U.S. could be negative, in part by pushing Mexico further away as a trade partner.

Mexican industry leaders are already drifting towards partners in South America, Europe and Asia, offended by Trump’s border wall and other policies.

“They have been connected so tightly to the U.S. because of its proximity, but the wall is in effect – you can think of this economically – is pushing the U.S. and Mexico farther apart,” Gerber said.

Mexico’s largest cement manufacturer, Cemex, initially expressed interest in bidding on the border wall. But after a public outcry the company no longer plans to bid.

Earlier this month, three California Assemblymembers announced legislation that would punish the companies that end up building the wall by requiring the state’s pension funds to divest from them.

“The people of California don’t want to invest in the hateful values that the Trump wall represents,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat who represents south San Diego County.

R.E. Staite Engineering declined to comment on the proposed legislation.

Holley of vScenario sent KPBS the following statement: “Shaming U.S. companies out of participating will likely drive the cost of the wall up and shift profits to foreign companies.”

CBP Inspects Phones


nbcnews

When Buffalo, New York couple Akram Shibly and Kelly McCormick returned to the U.S. from a trip to Toronto on Jan. 1, 2017, U.S. Customs & Border Protection officers held them for two hours, took their cellphones and demanded their passwords.

“It just felt like a gross violation of our rights,” said Shibly, a 23-year-old filmmaker born and raised in New York. But he and McCormick complied, and their phones were searched.

Three days later, they returned from another trip to Canada and were stopped again by CBP.

“One of the officers calls out to me and says, ‘Hey, give me your phone,'” recalled Shibly. “And I said, ‘No, because I already went through this.'”

The officer asked a second time..

Within seconds, he was surrounded: one man held his legs, another squeezed his throat from behind. A third reached into his pocket, pulling out his phone. McCormick watched her boyfriend’s face turn red as the officer’s chokehold tightened.

Then they asked McCormick for her phone.

“I was not about to get tackled,” she said. She handed it over.

Shibly and McCormick’s experience is not unique. In 25 cases examined by NBC News, American citizens said that CBP officers at airports and border crossings demanded that they hand over their phones and their passwords, or unlock them.

The travelers came from across the nation, and were both naturalized citizens and people born and raised on American soil. They traveled by plane and by car at different times through different states. Businessmen, couples, senior citizens, and families with young kids, questioned, searched, and detained for hours when they tried to enter or leave the U.S. None were on terror watchlists. One had a speeding ticket. Some were asked about their religion and their ethnic origins, and had the validity of their U.S. citizenship questioned.

What most of them have in common — 23 of the 25 — is that they are Muslim, like Shibly, whose parents are from Syria.

American citizens Akram Shibly, left, and Kelly McCormick had their phones searched as they reentered the U.S. at Niagara Falls, New York on two separate trips in January 2017. They say Shibly was put in a chokehold when he refused to hand over his phone on the second crossing. Michael Adamucci / for NBC News

Data provided by the Department of Homeland Security shows that searches of cellphones by border agents has exploded, growing fivefold in just one year, from fewer than 5,000 in 2015 to nearly 25,000 in 2016.

According to DHS officials, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. Five-thousand devices were searched in February alone, more than in all of 2015.

“That’s shocking,” said Mary Ellen Callahan, former chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security. She wrote the rules and restrictions on how CBP should conduct electronic searches back in 2009. “That [increase] was clearly a conscious strategy, that’s not happenstance.”

“This really puts at risk both the security and liberty of the American people,” said Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. “Law abiding Americans are being caught up in this digital dragnet.”

“This is just going to grow and grow and grow,” said Senator Wyden. “There’s tremendous potential for abuse here.”

What Changed?

What CBP agents call “detaining” cellphones didn’t start after Donald Trump’s election. The practice began a decade ago, late in the George W. Bush administration, but was highly focused on specific individuals.

The more aggressive tactics of the past two years, two senior intelligence officials told NBC News, were sparked by a string of domestic incidents in 2015 and 2016 in which the watch list system and the FBI failed to stop American citizens from conducting attacks. The searches also reflect new abilities to extract contact lists, travel patterns and other data from phones very quickly.

DHS has published more than two dozen reports detailing its extensive technological capability to forensically extract data from mobile devices, regardless of password protection on most Apple and Android phones. The reports document its proven ability to access deleted call logs, videos, photos, and emails to name a few, in addition to the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram apps..

But the officials caution that rhetoric about a Muslim registry and ban during the presidential campaign also seems to have emboldened federal agents to act more forcefully.

“The shackles are off,” said Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project. “We see individual officers and perhaps supervisors as well pushing those limits, exceeding their authority and violating people’s rights.”

And multiple sources told NBC News that law enforcement and the Intelligence Community are exploiting a loophole to collect intelligence.

Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement needs at least reasonable suspicion if they want to search people or their possessions within the United States. But not at border crossings, and not at airport terminals.

“The Fourth Amendment, even for U.S. citizens, doesn’t apply at the border,” said Callahan. “That’s under case law that goes back 150 years.”

The ACLU’s Handeyside noted that while the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement doesn’t apply at the border, its “general reasonableness” requirement still does, and is supposed to protect against unreasonable searches and seizures. “That may seem nuanced, but it’s a critical distinction, said Handeyside. “We don’t surrender our constitutional rights at the border.”

Customs and Border officers can search travelers without any level of suspicion. They have the legal authority to go through any object crossing the border within 100 miles, including smartphones and laptops. They have the right to take devices away from travelers for five days without providing justification. In the absence of probable cause, however, they have to give the devices back.

CBP also searches people on behalf of other federal law enforcement agencies, sending its findings back to partners in the DEA, FBI, Treasury and the National Counterterrorism Center, among others.

Callahan thinks that CBP’s spike in searches means it is exploiting the loophole “in order to get information they otherwise might hot have been able to.”

On January 31, an engineer from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory was pulled into additional screening upon his return to the U.S. after a two-week vacation in Chile. Despite being cleared by the Global Entry program, Sidd Bikkannavar received an “X” on his customs form. He is not Muslim, and he is not from any of the seven countries named in President Trump’s original “travel ban” executive order. Half his family comes from India but he was born and raised in California.

Bikkannavar was brought into a closed room and told to hand over his phone and passcode. He paid particular notice to the form CBP handed him which explained it had the right to copy the contents of the phone, and that the penalty for refusal was “detention.”

“I didn’t know if that meant detention of the phone or me and I didn’t want to find out,” said Bikkannavar. He tried to refuse but the officer repeatedly demanded the PIN. Eventually he acquiesced.

“Once they had that, they had everything,” Bikkannavar said. That access allowed CBP officers to review the backend of his social media accounts, work emails, call and text history, photos and other apps. He had expected security might physically search any travelers for potential weapons but accessing his digital data felt different. “Your whole digital life is on your phone.”

The officers disappeared with his phone and PIN. They returned 30 minutes later and let him go home.

Sidd Bikkannavar poses for a portrait in 2014. Takashi Akaishi

CBP also regularly searches people leaving the country.

On February 9, Haisam Elsharkawi was stopped by security while trying to board his flight out of Los Angeles International Airport. He said that six Customs officers told him he was randomly selected. They demanded access to his phone and when he refused, Elsharkawi said they handcuffed him, locked him in the airport’s lower level and asked questions including how he became a citizen. Elsharkawi thought he knew his rights and demanded access to legal counsel.

“They said if I need a lawyer, then I must be guilty of something,” said Elsharkawi, and Egyptian-born Muslim and naturalized U.S. citizen. After four hours of questioning in detention, he unlocked his smartphone and, after a search, was eventually released. Elsharkawi said he intends to sue the Department of Homeland Security.

The current policy has not been updated since 2009. Jayson Ahern, who served in CBP under both Bush and Obama, signed off on the current policy. He said the electronic searches are supposed to be based on specific, articulable facts that raise security concerns. They are not meant to be random or routine or applied liberally to border crossers. “That’s reckless and that’s how you would lose the authority, never mind the policy.”

The Customs & Border Patrol policy manual says that electronic devices fall under the same extended search doctrine that allows them to scan bags in the typical security line.

“As the threat landscape changes, so does CBP,” a spokesperson told NBC News.

Since the policy was written in 2009, legal advocates argue, several court cases have set new precedents that could make some CBP electronic searches illegal.

Several former DHS officials pointed to a 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Riley v California that determined law enforcement needed a warrant to search electronic devices when a person is being arrested. The court ruled unanimously, and Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the opinion.

“Modern cellphones are not just another technological convenience. With all they contain and all they may reveal, they hold for many Americans ‘the privacies of life,'” wrote Roberts. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought.”

Because that case happened outside of the border context, however, CBP lawyers have repeatedly asserted in court that the ruling does not apply to border searches.

For now a Department of Justice internal bulletin has instructed that, unless border officers have a search warrant, they need to take protective measures to limit intrusions, and make sure their searches do not access travelers’ digital cloud data. The ‘cloud’ is all content not directly stored on a device, which includes anything requiring internet to access, like email and social media.

Former DHS officials who helped design and implement the search policy said they agreed with that guidance.

Wyden Pushes to Change the Policy

On February 20, Sen. Wyden wrote to DHS Secretary John Kelly demanding details on electronic search-practices used on U.S. citizens, and referred to the extent of electronic searches as government “overreach”. As of publication, he had yet to receive an answer.

Now Sen. Wyden says that as early as next week he plans to propose a bill that would require CBP to at least obtain a warrant to search electronics of U.S. citizens, and explicitly prevent officers from demanding passwords.

“The old rules … seem to be on the way to being tossed in the garbage can,” said Senator Wyden. “I think it is time to update the law.”

Akram Shibly at home in Buffalo, Sunday March, 12, 2017. Michael Adamucci / for NBC News

Asked about the Shibly case, a CBP spokesperson declined to comment, but said the Homeland Security Inspector General is investigating. The spokesperson said the agency can’t comment on open investigations or particular travelers, but that it “firmly denies any accusations of racially profiling travelers based on nationality, race, sex, religion, faith, or spiritual beliefs.”

Explaining the sharp increase in electronic searches, a department spokesperson told NBC News: “CBP has adapted and adjusted to align with current threat information, which is based on intelligence.” A spokesman also noted that searches of citizens leaving the U.S. protect against the theft of American industrial and national security secrets.

After repeated communications, the Department of Homeland Security never responded to NBC News’ requests for comments. Nonetheless, the Homeland Security Inspector General is currently auditing CBP’s electronic search practices.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also has filed two dozen complaints against CBP this year for issues profiling Muslim Americans. CAIR and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are considering legal action against the government for what they consider to be unconstitutional searches at the border.

Tunnel Theme Park San Diego


SDUT Since the first large smuggling tunnel was found in the San Diego area in 1993, at least two dozen complete cross-border tunnels have been found along the U.S.-Mexico border from San Diego to Tecate. According to Drug Enforcement Administration officials, since 1990 more than 220 clandestine tunnels have been discovered along the nearly 2,000-mile Southwest border (185 of these crossed into the United States). This is a list of some of the biggest and most elaborate clandestine tunnels in the San Diego region.

1993: Going underground

Tijuana Sewage Stinks


surfline.com

During a span of two weeks, millions of gallons of sewage spilled into the Tijuana River, sending a nasty deluge into the waters off San Diego, closing numerous beaches for health concerns, and permeating a putrid stench.

The spill reportedly ended last week, but the remnants of the estimated 143 million gallons is still oozing into the ocean at Imperial Beach and other south S.D. County spots. And while cross-border sewage displacement is common, this is the largest discharge in two decades, according to San Diego water quality experts.

“This was like a tsunami of sewage spills,” Imperial Beach Mayor Serge Dedina, told the Los Angeles Times. “What’s worse is it looks to me like this was deliberate. It saves [the Mexican agencies] a lot of money in pumping costs, and ultimately, they can get away with it and do it all the time, just on a much smaller scale.”Reports from Mexico say the spill occurred during repair efforts on a pipe at the confluence of the Alamar and Tijuana rivers. But local officials and environmental agencies – including the Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego chapter and Wildcoast – are calling for the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) and California state senators to launch a federal investigation.

As of now, according to Heal the Bay’s Beach Report Card, there are closures due to the spill spanning over 10 miles from the U.S./Mexico border to Coronado.

Tijuana River Sewage Flows


LOS ANGELES (AP) — Officials in Southern California are crying foul after more than 140 million gallons of raw sewage spilled into the Tijuana River in Mexico and flowed north of the border for more than two weeks, according to a report.

The spill was caused Feb. 2 during rehabilitation of a sewage collector pipe and wasn’t contained until Thursday, the International Boundary and Water Commission said in its report released Friday. The river drains into the Pacific Ocean on the U.S. side.

Serge Dedina, the mayor of Imperial Beach, California, said residents of his city and other coastal communities just north of the border have complained about a growing stench.

Dedina criticized federal officials in the U.S. and Mexico for not alerting people to the spill.

“Border authorities charged with managing sewage infrastructure and reporting these spills must do better and be held accountable for this act,” Dedina said in a statement Saturday. He called for the resignation of Edward Drusina, chief of the international water commission, over his lack of attention to cross-border sewage flows.

Officials with the commission didn’t immediately return calls from The Associated Press seeking comment Saturday.

The mayor said his office will seek an investigation into the spill and its aftermath, adding that U.S. officials “must make fixing sewage infrastructure a priority and issue of national security.”

San Diego County beaches, which typically would be closed by such a spill, already were off-limits to swimmers and surfers because of runoff as a result of recent storms, Dedina said.

Over the years, several large sewage spills on both sides of the border have worsened conditions in the Tijuana River, one of the most polluted waterways in the country, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper. Old sewage infrastructure in Tijuana and the lack of any plumbing in some residences have been blamed for the problem.

Feb 24 Hwy1 Pothole Report


I’m a monthly San Diego shopper, though I live 2 hours south in Ensenada.  Hunted down some needed household items on Thursday, Feb 24.  Bath and bed upgrades plus new hiking shoes and sharp cheddar cheese were my big thrills.

Here is my February 24 Hwy 1 pothole report, and a few more reasons not to drive at night, unless you like surprises:

tjchapbache

Right lane at Tijuana south crossing, just before bridge taking you west to Hwy1/TJ Playas, has a big chunk of concrete missing.  This is approx 100m past the Tijuana secondary inspection station.  This bache(pothole) has been around for a few months.  Good news was that southbound border trafic wait took only approx 10 minutes at 3PM Friday.

Most of TJ-Ens hwy1 is easy going and no drama.  Even the rumble warning bumps in right lane at El Mirador, k84, just before descending into the dangerous Salsipuedes curves have been worn down to the nubs.

salsi1lane17

The Salsipuedes payment “waves”are still present, although the constant repavement provides a smooth tire path.  The inland lanes have been shut down so traffic is merged to one lane in each direction for a couple of miles.

uabcbache17

Noticed new crumbling and big hole under the UABC bridge, just before the Ensenada welcome fountain.  Wow, this one caught me by surprise.  OUCH.

ensestanciabache17

Estancia blvd to Reforma…WOW…last 1/4 mile west was closed due to Carnaval, but the entire stretch east and west from Costero/Playa Hermosa to Hwy1/Reforma is a mess of craters.  fyi, Estancia is landmarked by Ocean’s Restaurant and Mariscos Barbajan on Costero.  It is the inland turn I use most often to get from Costero back to Hwy1, aka Av Reforma.

estanciapemexbache

Special note goes to the family of caves in the pavement at the Pemex on Estancia/Reforma corner.  This fun spot has been a pain for a few years.  They always bandage it, but it comes back to life after big rains.

comexbache17

Costco/Comercial Mex entries are painful due to pavement failure.  Yep, despite the whirlwind day in San Diego, I usually grab my fruit and veggies at Comercial Mex on the way home.  The fourway spot of Costco vs. Comex and the street can be a traffic jam.  Now that the moguls are deep, adventure shopping ensues.

Did score some good avocados at Comex.  My perfect aguacates(avocados) are firm and 3-5 days away from serving squishyness.

agenciamodelo

Here is an oasis among baches(potholes).  A case of Pacifico ballenas(940ml) is only 276mnp.  That works out to approx 42 cents per 12 ounce beer at Dockerty’s Pub.  I often travel north with an empty case of Pacificos in order to exchange them on my southbound trip home.  I occasionally get a fun “what are the empty bottles for?” at San Ysidro border crossing.

Notice the peso slightly strengthening vs. dollar past week?

truckdepotbache17

Truck Depot intersection of Hwy 1 south of Baja Country Club has a huge hole and have seen accidents at this spot.  Southbound left lane, just past the intersection where the truck is raised up on the platform, is the hole, where an AMC Gremlin could hide.  Yesterday, there was a metal plate covering the spot.

tramodemuerte17

All of Tramo de Muerto, the southbound stretch of Hwy 1 on north side of Maneadero is terrifying.  Wow that area is bad and getting worse each week due to heavy traffic. They have rehabbed and repaved much of the stretch from Baja Country Club north.  But BCC SOUTH?  Ugh.  Of course, part of the thrill is watching traffic weave around the holes at 60mph.

What is your favorite Highway 1 pothole for 2017???

San Ysidro Southbound Inspections


Vehicles traveling southbound towards the Chaparral Border crossingat Friday afternoon rush hour. Commuters say an increase in southbound inspections by U.S. Customs and Border Protection has caused congestion at other times of day as well. (Alejandro Tamayo / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Bajadock: we first reported on southbound inspections at San Ysidro in January 2012.

For many cross-border commuters, northbound waits are part of the routine. But  in recent weeks, growing numbers say they have been facing lengthy southbound waits as well.

Crossers such as Tijuana resident Mara Camacho, whose children attend school in Lemon Grove, complain of maddeningly slow southbound traffic when returning to Mexico — the result of intensified screenings by U.S. Customs and Border Protection of drivers preparing to leave the United States.

“There’s more of a problem getting into Mexico than getting out of Mexico,” said Camacho, a U.S. citizen who works as a realtor in Tijuana.

While the family is able to cross fairly quickly to San Diego in the SENTRI lanes for crossers who have undergone background checks,  they are coming to expect long lines to get back home. On weekday afternoons, “my kids are doing an average of 50 minutes of border wait,” Camacho said.

She is not alone: Complaints about southbound waits have been appearing repeatedly in recent days on Facebook pages where border commuters communicate about the border lines in both directions.

While President Donald Trump has vowed to increase border security, CBP officials say these outbound inspections are not the result of any directive from the new administration. The southbound screenings are just business as usual, said Sally Carrillo, assistant port director at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.

“We’re always doing them, it’s part of our routine enforcement,” Carrillo said. “We’re looking for weapons, we’re looking for money that’s going out of the country, we’re not going to stop that.”

Critics of the southbound screenings such as Jason Wells, executive director of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, question their benefits. ”We think that it’s unnecessary and repetitive. We don’t ask Mexico to pre-inspect  what comes northbound.”

Wells said “the timing was terrible…with the administration change, sentiments are just all over the board, why would you heighten inspection during that time?”

Unlike northbound inspections, which screen every crosser, the southbound inspections are occasional and unannounced. “We call it pulse and surge,” Carrillo said Thursday during a breakfast meeting on Thursday hosted by the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce.

Drivers have remarked that the CBP inspections lead to the closing of three lanes leading toward Mexico, creating a traffic bottleneck, even if officers are not inspecting vehicles. Carrillo said the aim of closing off lanes is “so that people will slow down and afford us the opportunity” to conduct inspections.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has issued a statement that reads: “We do not comment on the number, frequency, or timing of outbound inspections.”

The statement adds that the outbound inspections are conducted “when resources permit,” and that they have “successfully stopped child abduction, interdicted criminals fleeing prosecution, interdicted illegal contraband such as controlled substances, precursor drugs, and arms, and uncovered myriad other violations involving currency reporting requirements, stolen vehicles, trade, and immigration.”

 

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