SPOKANE, Wash. – One of President Donald Trump’s biggest campaign promises, that he is still vowing to deliver, is building a wall along the border with Mexico.
It is part of a larger push to beef up border security aimed at cutting down on illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The Department of Homeland Security unveiled several prototypes in October. But, at this point a wall along the 2,000-mile border with Mexico remains a long way from reality.
Whether or not you think a wall is needed, numbers show the southern border is far busier than the northern border. Of the 310,000 people border patrol agents detained in 2017, suspected of being in the country illegally, nearly 304,000 of those apprehensions happened along the southern border.
"We do have a lot of things that we do up here to make sure that we're covering the area," Customs and Border Protection Operations Officer Bill Kingsford said.
Kingsford said the work agents do along the northern border is no less important. He is an operations officer for the Spokane Sector, which covers roughly 300 miles of border between the Okanagan Valley and Glacier National Park. But, their work takes them all the way to Spokane, 90 miles from the border. The search for illegal immigrants is focused on, of all things, Greyhound busses.
Every week, agents come all the way down to Spokane to check passengers destined for cities across the country. They ask passengers what country they are citizens in and where they are going. Part of Border Patrol’s mission is to work transportation hubs within 100 miles of the border. The goal is to catch people who are in the U.S. illegally before they disappear into the interior of the country. It is work they often find themselves explaining to passengers.
In 2017, agents in the Spokane Sector detained 34 people suspected of being here illegally during bus checks. In 2016, they made 36 apprehensions at the bus station. In the last five years, agents captured a total of 175 people during the checks.
KREM 2 went with agents on one of their bus checks. While we were there, agents did not detain anyone and that is often the case. While the national debate swirls around a southern border wall, Kingsford said they will stay focused on work in the lnland Northwest because he said it is important to the security of our country.
“The thing that we have here is this location in Spokane is a central location for either people either coming along I-90 from Seattle or from Montana or what have you, so they'll come and stop in this area and that's one of the reasons we come and check these locations," he said.
Bus checks are just a small part of what Border Patrol Agents do in the Spokane Sector.
KREM 2 asked if apprehensions have increased since Trump took office. Kingsford said no. In 2013, there were 299 apprehensions in the Spokane Sector, 269 apprehensions in 2014, 190 apprehensions in 2015, 206 apprehensions in 2016 and in 2017 there were 208 apprehensions in the Spokane sector.
Kingsford said 230 agents work in the Spokane Sector. Nationally, staffing for border patrol is down. They are mandated by Congress to have 21,000 border patrol agents for the entire county. Right now, they are sitting at around 19,000. On top of that, the president wants to add 5,000 more agents nationwide.