published Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Rains, smugglers damage U.S.-Mexico border fence

A border patrol vehicle stands guard at a section of collapsed fence just west of the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, Ariz., on July 27, 2014, after severe storms in southern Arizona over the weekend knocked down a chunk of the metal border fence that divides Mexico and the U.S. Rain runoff from the storms destroyed about 60 feet worth of fence and caused damage to homes just north of it.
A border patrol vehicle stands guard at a section of collapsed fence just west of the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, Ariz., on July 27, 2014, after severe storms in southern Arizona over the weekend knocked down a chunk of the metal border fence that divides Mexico and the U.S. Rain runoff from the storms destroyed about 60 feet worth of fence and caused damage to homes just north of it.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

TUCSON, Ariz. — U.S. Border Patrol officials said Wednesday that agents discovered a garage-sized hole through a steel fence that divides the United States and Mexico just east of Nogales, Arizona.

The announcement was the second one this week about problems with the border fence. On Sunday, agents found that runoff water from rainstorms during the weekend had also knocked down 60 feet of the rebar-reinforced steel fence just west of the Nogales-Mariposa Port of Entry near Interstate 19 in Nogales. That fence stood between 18 and 26 feet high and extended at least 7 feet underground.

The hole in a section of the fence 1 ½ miles east of the Nogales city limits was discovered by agents on Saturday.

The Border Patrol says it is working on repairs for both fences and has agents monitoring the areas.

"Smugglers often attempt to cut border fences; dig under them; climb over them; and even throw things over the fence," Border Patrol spokeswoman Nicole Ballistrea said in a written statement. "As the Tucson Sector continues to improve deterrence efforts along the border, smuggling organizations are finding it more difficult to move their illicit goods into the interior of the United States. Fencing infrastructure gives Border Patrol agents the time they need to stop illegal cross-border activity."

The storms that caused the fencing to topple began Friday in Sonora, Mexico, and resumed Saturday night until Sunday morning, when debris from the Mexican side of the border traveled through a wash and piled up against the border fence.

The fence was built in 2011. It is constantly monitored by agents because smugglers and others who attempt to cross illegally routinely try to breach or knock down parts of it.

The Border Patrol says it does not keep track of fence breaches or attempted breaches, but it does have a special unit devoted to finding and destroying underground tunnels used to smuggle drugs.

Whether it's cutting through steel fences with special tools or building long and elaborate tunnels, smugglers have no shortage of creative ways to try to bypass the law and sneak drugs into the U.S.

In 2012, suspected smugglers who tried to use ramps to drive an SUV over a 14-foot-tall border fence in southeast corner of California became stuck on top of the barrier. Border Patrol agents found the Jeep teetering atop the fence about five miles west of the Colorado River and the Arizona state line. The suspected smugglers fled. The Jeep was empty, but agents said they believe it was filled with contraband before it got stuck.

Just last month, agents in Arizona spotted a truck made to look like it belonged to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a federal agency. The decals on the truck turned out to be fake. But the 3,200 pounds (1,451 kilograms) of marijuana in it were real.

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