A new border fence will be erected by the military near the Tecate Port of Entry this spring as part of the government's efforts to limit drug smuggling, U.S. officials said Tuesday.
The steel curtain will run 3 miles east and west of the Tecate crossing, which is in a remote, hilly area about 35 miles southeast of San Diego. Officials said engineering preparations for the barrier will begin Jan. 3, and actual construction is scheduled to begin by April 1.
U.S. Border Patrol spokesman Steve Kean said the success of a similar fence erected recently at both ends of the San Ysidro Port of Entry prompted officials to request construction of the Tecate fence.
According to Kean, the 14-mile San Ysidro steel wall, which runs from the Pacific Ocean east past the San Ysidro and Otay border crossings, has led to a dramatic increase in drug seizures. In September, the Army Corps of Engineers announced plans to install powerful floodlights along 13 miles of the San Ysidro fence.
The fence is built with pierced steel planking, better known by the military acronym PSP. The long, narrow planks interlock and are commonly used to cover dirt aircraft landing strips. They are welded together to form a barrier 10 feet high.
Before the San Ysidro fence was erected, drug smugglers routinely drove across the border, traversing farm fields and dirt roads on the mesa to roads that feed into northbound Interstates 5 and 15.
Since the San Ysidro fence went up in 1991, marijuana seizures have increased 400%, while cocaine seizures have risen 1,100%, Kean said.
"These increases are directly attributable to the border fence," Kean said. "We have denied smugglers important terrain that they used for years to drive their loads across. We've forced them to use remote regions and smaller corridors. In some cases, we've forced them to carry their loads across the border on foot. All these factors have made it easier for us to apprehend them."
The San Ysidro fence has moved smugglers east to Tecate, where they have begun driving drug roads across flat terrain, authorities said.
"Much of the narcotics traffic has shifted to Tecate, where drug seizures are increasing," Kean said. "There are flatland areas east and west of Tecate that we need to seal. If we seal these flat areas, we'll force smugglers farther east, out of their vehicles and into the canyons and more rugged areas, where they will be easier to apprehend."
Gary Becks, a spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Coronado), said the Tecate fence will be constructed by military reservists from California and Missouri. Hunter, whose district covers much of the remote East San Diego County area to the Mexican border, spearheaded the construction of both fences.
Neither Becks nor Kean knew the cost of the construction project. However, both spokesmen noted that most of the materials have come from government surplus stocks.