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GALLERY

Over and Under

August 14, 1994|CHRIS KRAUL

SAN DIEGO — The wall--10 feet high and 14 miles long--went up a year ago along the U.S.-Mexico border to stem the flow of illegal drugs and immig rants. And officials say it works.

The average number of "drive- throughs" by smugglers crashing the old cyclone fence with truckloads of drugs and immigrants has dropped from "200 to 300 a month before the wall to virtually none now," U.S. Border Patrol spokeswoman Ann Summers said.

Plus, border patrol apprehensions of illegal immigrants trying to slip into the United States are down 15% since last year.

But what can't be stemmed is the desire to seek a better life. So the immigrants keep coming. Some circumvent this barrier that stretches to the ocean; others may be heading to the border in Arizona, which has seen an increase in apprehensions.

And the wall is no monument to goodwill.

Many Tijuanans see the gray, rusting wall as a visual insult, a reminder of the harsh differences in how the two nations perceive each other, of the friction over the immigration issue.

With the newly added row of floodlights that run nearly the entire length of the fence, the wall resembles the edge of prison camp.

Javier Barros Valero, Mexico's foreign ministry undersecretary, understatedly described the fence as "not an act of friendliness or neighborliness."

Nevertheless, the Border Patrol is continuing with plans to build similar fences in Tucson and El Paso. After all, this one was a bargain--a mere $482,000.

It was made entirely with several hundred tons of "landing mat": obsolete steel planks dating from the Vietnam era that were used for Army and Navy airstrips and roadways.

Labor was provided by Navy Seabees and Army Reserve welders who built the fence as a training exercise.

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