The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has begun building a 10-foot high, sheet metal fence at the Otay Mesa border crossing in an effort to thwart smugglers driving between Mexico and the United States, officials said Friday.
The plan to construct 6 miles of reinforced fencing is the apparent successor to a proposed "ditch," which would have served a similar purpose. Plans for the ditch, though, were dropped in 1989.
The INS has been roundly criticized by immigrant advocates and the Mexican government for various proposals to block the border. Past efforts have included erecting fences of metal cable and barbed wire, much of which is now in disrepair, and the posting of armed National Guard soldiers.
Construction of the new fence began Thursday. It will be similar to barriers that went up last year at the San Ysidro border station.
Since a 5-mile long fence was built from the ocean to the San Ysidro border station a year ago, there have been no reported illegal vehicle crossings, said U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Steve Kean. There were about 100 illegal crossings the year before.
"We hope the fence at Otay will have the same effect," he said.
Border Patrol agents at Otay Mesa recorded 905 "vehicle drive-throughs," but stopped only 31 cars, Kean said. The 31 vehicles contained 198 undocumented migrants.
Kean said the vehicles crossing at Otay Mesa carried either drugs or undocumented immigrants and that the area has been known for the "impunity" with which smuggling takes place. More than 2,000 pounds of marijuana was confiscated from abandoned vehicles last year, but no drug-related arrests were made, Kean said.
Kean decribed parts of Otay Mesa as a "no-man's-land" where attempts at capturing migrants often are frustrated by the ease with which they can turn back, re-enter Mexico and then try again.
The Border Patrol said it expects the number of attacks on immigrants and agents to decrease if vehicle traffic is blocked. Several recent outbreaks of violence between Border Patrol officers and Mexican nationals have raised criticism of the INS's policing of the border.
The fence is being built from surplus corrugated steel sheeting, which had been used to make temporary helicopter pads and landing runways. Materials and welders are being donated by the Defense Department, INS officials said. It will run parallel to the main road leading to Rodriguez International Airport in Tijuana.
No date has been scheduled for its completion, officials said.