BP union, including Tucson agent, pushes for border wall in Trump meeting as federal shutdown continues
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BP union, including Tucson agent, pushes for border wall in Trump meeting as federal shutdown continues

With his political allies in the Border Patrol's union behind him, President Donald Trump continued to press Thursday for new spending on his long-promised border wall, which remains at the center of a 13-day shutdown of the federal government. 

While Trump has continually demanded a "big beautiful wall," in recent weeks he's tried to describe his plans in different ways, asking Congress for money that would be spent on "steel slats" or a "barrier." 

"You can call it a barrier, you can call it whatever you want, but essentially, we need protection in our country," Trump said. "We're going to make it good, the people of our country want it—I have never had so much support as I have in the last week, over my stance for border security, for border control, or for frankly, the wall or the barrier." 

Trump said that he told members of the union, the National Border Patrol Council, to go out and "see the press."  

"You can tell them about the importance of the wall," he said. "They basically said — and I think I can take the word 'basically' out — without a wall, you cannot have border security. Without a very strong form of barrier—call it what you will—but without a wall, you cannot have border security. It won’t work." 

Trump made his comments during a hastily scheduled press conference in the White House briefing room, and began by congratulating Nancy Pelosi for again becoming speaker of the House.  "Hopefully we're going to work together and get lots of things done," he said. 

Later in the day, House Democrats led by Pelosi passed two bills to reopen the government, one designed to open most of the government through Sept. 30, while the other would fund Homeland Security for just a few weeks. Neither bill contained funding for a border wall. 

Trump pivoted to the men standing behind him as "people I've known very well over the last two years," and introduced the organization's president Brandon Judd as a "friend in a sense." 

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Judd, along with union vice presidents Hector Garza and Art Del Cueto — a Tucson Sector agent — have regularly made the White House's case for border security since 2016, when the union took the unusual step of endorsing Trump. That move that was rewarded with tickets to the president's inaugural party in Washington, D.C., and attendance in Cabinet meetings focused on the border. 

While Judd, Garza, Del Cueto and the leader of the union that represents U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stood behind Trump, the leaders of the Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, and the Border Patrol's chief were absent. 

Judd highlighted his experience as an agent, and said "that physical barriers, that walls, actually work." 

Judd said that he worked near Naco, Ariz., for 10 years, and the area was "absolutely out of control," but after barriers were installed "illegal immigration dropped exponentially." 

Border Patrol only releases apprehensions at the sector level, but from fiscal year 2008 to the next year, apprehensions dropped around 24 percent, according to agency data, following a trend that continued across the southwestern border. 

While there were experts who would say that walls don't work, "I promise you that if you interview Border Patrol agents, they will tell you that walls work," Judd said. "Anywhere that you look where we have built walls, they have worked." 

Judd praised Trump and "all of his efforts in getting us those physical barriers." 

"I want everybody to take the time to understand what's going on," Del Cueto said. "We are all affected by this shutdown—we have skin in the game. However, it comes down to border security, and we're extremely grateful to President Trump, and we fully support what he is doing to take care of our nation's borders and the future of the United States." 

"It has nothing to do with political parties. You all got to ask yourselves this question: if I come to your home, do you want me to knock on the front door? Or, do you want me to climb through that window?" 

This put the NPBC at loggerheads with its affiliate, the American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 700,000 federal workers. In a letter, the AFGE urged the White House and Congress to come to agreement. 

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"Federal employees want to go to work. They believe in their mission and want to provide quality services to the American people," said AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. "But now, 420,000 of them will report to work on Monday and won’t get paid for it. More than 380,000 employees will be locked out of work without pay. This is the third shutdown of the year, and it’s no way to run our country." 

And support for the border wall seems less certain than Judd would like. 

Among Border Patrol agents interviewed by TucsonSentinel.com over the last two years, some have called the wall not much more than a "speed bump," while other agents said that the wall was "unnecessary." 

As a supervisory Border Patrol agent, who was not authorized to speak to the press, told TucsonSentinel.com in January 2017: "In the right circumstances, tactical infrastructure like fencing can give us the time we need to make apprehensions, especially in cities where its easy for people to disappear in the crowd, but in the deserts we have time to make apprehensions," he said. "There's no silver bullet when it comes to protecting the border."

He pointed out that the agency has already built hundreds of miles of fencing, and installed new sensor towers in the Tucson Sector. "To protect the fence, we'll need roads and time, and that requires its own chain of infrastructure, along with more agents."

In 2011, the former commissioner of CBP told Congress that the DHS had "dedicated historic levels of personnel, technology, and resources to the Southwestern border." 

"We increased the size of the Border Patrol to more than 20,700 agents today, more than double the size it was in 2004. As of March 31, 2011, we have constructed 649 miles of fencing out of nearly 652 miles where Border Patrol field commanders determined it was operationally required, including 299 miles of vehicle barriers and 350 miles of pedestrian fence, with the remaining three miles scheduled to be complete by the end of the calendar year," he said.

Of the 262 linear miles of border covered by the Tucson Sector Border Patrol, 80 percent is defended by some type of barrier, including 72 miles of "pedestrian fencing," according to the Tucson Sector Border Patrol's own figures. 

In 2016, the Obama administration agreed to replace older fencing along the border with new modern barriers, including a project in Naco that replaced 7.5 miles of "legacy" fencing at a cost of $44.7 million that was finished in 2017. 

And, based on last year's allocation of $1.2 billion, the agency announced it would replace 15 miles of pedestrian fencing and 14 miles of secondary fencing in California worth $287 million, slated to begin in February. The agency also announced similar plans in the Yuma and Tucson Sectors to build 32 miles of new fencing at a cost of $324 million, slated to begin in April. 

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A Border Patrol truck along the border near Naco, Ariz.

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