One of the first things President Trump did in office was to sign an executive order on January 25 to begin building the wall, but there is no funding yet. Many people in Laredo,the site of the busiest commercial land port in the US, claim the Rio Grande is a natural border so no physical wall is needed.
Mauricio Vidaurri: As you can see, it wasn’t a big place.
Mauricio Vidaurri’s family history is situated on thirteen-hundred raw acres of Texas border land. Part of a Spanish land grant, even before there was a United States of America.
Mauricio Vidaurri: In this room, in this house, my father was born. Born and raised.
The proximity to Mexico means illegal immigrants and drug dealers are a constant worry.
Sharyl Attkisson: This is your house that you found broken in?
Mauricio Vidaurri: My sister's house. It was my father's house. They’ll break in to the window, and they’ll try to use it as a stash house. Either for illegal immigrants or for the dope runners.
As much as he supports tough border security, Vidaurri is against a physical border wall, which he says wouldn’t be built on the actual border, the middle of the Rio Grande River, but somewhere on the U.S. side. On his property.
Mauricio Vidaurri: You build a wall, this cuts off, and they get the water. We no longer get the water. They get the water.
Sharyl Attkisson: Mexico?
Mauricio Vidaurri: Yes.
Sharyl Attkisson: A wall could also cut through his hay fields.
Mauricio Vidaurri: The wall can be built right here, right? And anything past this, will be no man's land.
An even bigger issue: a border wall could go straight through the family cemetery. Thousands of border property owners like Vidaurri are waiting to hear what’s coming.
Mauricio Vidaurri: I would say about a year ago it started really, the alarm bells started going off.
President Trump: Build the wall, build the wall, build the wall.
In terms of traffic, Vidaurri’s land might seem like the right place for President Trump’s wall. It’s in the so-called Laredo Sector of Texas home to the busiest commercial port in the US. It’s a bustling entry point for foot traffic from Mexico. Both the legal kind over the Gateway to Americas International Bridge. And the illegal kind.
A Border Patrol river team takes us on an airboat and we see that the river may be a natural barrier between the U.S and Mexico. But here, it’s not hard to cross.
Sharyl Attkisson: So what makes this such an active area?
Gabriel Acosta: Okay, so there's a, there's a number of things that make this area particularly attractive to the criminal element. It's not too, too deep, at some places the river is just, you know, up to your knees, maybe your waist.
Scott Good heads Border Patrol in the Laredo Sector.
Sharyl Attkisson: A lot of good people cross the border to come and work. Or find a better life. But a lot of them aren't good. A lot of them are criminal elements and they pose a great danger.
Scott Good: Yeah, absolutely. Smugglers don't care at all about human life. They're very callous. There's so many horrific things that can come from it to include: rape, slavery, those kinds of things.
He says a physical wall would help.
Scott Good: Infrastructure like a wall would be valuable to us. As well as other things, like the technology to be able to see in this dense brush.
Roberto Castillo: You can see, how if you're unfamiliar with an area, in general how difficult it would be to navigate through, through any of this, even at night, you know.
Along the banks of the Rio Grande, Webb County Sheriff’s Deputy Roberto Castillo shows us countless pathways routinely used for criminal traffic.
Sharyl Attkisson: Is this a path?
Roberto Castillo: It is what it is. It is a trail.
Sharyl Attkisson: What are the feelings here on the border about whether there should be an open border or there should be strict border enforcement?
Martin Cuellar: It should be strict.
The local sheriff, Martin Cuellar, says there’s a lot of community support for tough border enforcement.
Martin Cuellar: Mexico have cartels, cartels, that are operating just across the border, and when they're having trouble, and they're fighting either, other cartels or the Mexican government, you know, the military, the Marines, and when they have problems, guess what they do? They come across for safe haven. So, we can't, we can't say we want an open border. My job is to protect this community, and I’m going to do everything possible to do that.
But like many locals, the Sheriff doesn’t want a physical wall.
Martin Cuellar: I think a smart wall, you know, with drones and sensors and high-tech cameras, and people to respond to those areas will be the solution to this.
The Webb County Sheriff’s Department has already begun deploying a high-tech alternative to a wall called Border SMART. This is the first command center bringing in live images from two high-resolution solar-powered cameras. They’re seeking $90-million dollars in federal tax money to blanket 360 miles of border in 7 counties with cameras and response teams over five years. Federico Garza is helping to lead the effort.
Federico Garza: By the time that somebody crosses that border and gets into our field of operation, we will discover him day and night, and he won't know what hit him, until he gets on the highway.
Border SMART might line up with President Trump’s notion that half the border, a thousand miles, can protected by technology instead of a wall. In July he told reporters off-camera on Air Force One: It’s a 2,000 mile border, but you don’t need 2,000 miles of wall because you have a lot of natural barriers.
The media reported Trump had suddenly scaled-back his wall and they called it a “radical departure,” but he’d actually said the same thing a year and a half earlier: that of 2000 miles of border, only half needs a wall or fence.
President Trump: And of the two thousand we don’t need two thousand. We need a thousand because we have natural barriers etc etc.
In fact, candidate Trump began talking about less wall and more technology on this visit to Laredo in July of 2015.
Donald Trump: The mayor has done a fantastic job. Mr. Mayor.
Mayor Saenz: Thank you so Mr Trump.
That’s Laredo mayor Pete Saenz.
Mayor Saenz: He asked about how I felt about the wall. I told him, with all due respect it was offensive to Mexico. He listened. He did give an interview at the end, basically saying that possibly maybe areas with natural barriers like the river, possibly may not take a wall, be conducive to having a wall. My understanding is no wall, no fence, no barrier will be built in the Laredo city area.
Sharyl Attkisson: And that’s how you’d rather have it?
Mayor Saenz: Oh yes, by all means.
Vidaurri is in the next county over, waiting for word. He wants to stop the illegal traffic on his ranch, but save the family homestead.
Mauricio Vidaurri: We see my family's blood sweat and tears in those stones and in this land and that's what we have been passed on to protect and to preserve. To say, to have a wall just come in here and be built, well, you know, you're not respecting what was given to us, granted to us.