The 18-foot-tall steel slats extend 20 miles across the rugged Chihuahuan desert in southern New Mexico, cutting through high sand dunes and brush. On a recent day, there were none of the usual signs of migrant traffic – no discarded water bottles, clothes or trash. The radio on a Border Patrol SUV driving along the divide was mostly silent.
To many locals and public officials familiar with the area, the $74-million structure just west of tiny Santa Teresa marks a surprising priority in the Trump administration’s efforts to build a wall against illegal immigration, drugs and human trafficking.
“Most of us here say why spend that money? Just dead money going into the middle of the desert,” said Jerry Pacheco, president and CEO of the Border Industrial Association, a nonprofit representing industries in southern New Mexico.
The barrier, completed last year, provides an early peek at the administration’s efforts to provide the layer of national security President Donald Trump’s supporters demand. Although the fence does not break new ground – it replaces less formidable vehicle barriers – it is the longest section erected to date under Trump, who has said generally that he is starting in the most important places.
During more than two dozen interviews by Reuters reporters with the project’s opponents and advocates, few described the Santa Teresa stretch as having been a hub of illegal activity. Residents said they had found evidence of drug smuggling, such as packages of marijuana and other drugs dumped in the desert