Border Patrol Union Rep: Trump's San Diego Visit Good For Morale
Chris Harris stopped an unmarked Border Patrol SUV at the existing fence between San Diego and Tijuana. He recalled finding a group of illegal entrants in the exact same spot years ago.
“I grabbed one guy at the fence, threw him on the ground,” said the director of legislative and political affairs for the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613. “I had my foot on his back.”
In the heat of the moment, Harris focused on handcuffing the guy he’d caught. He forgot about the others who jumped back into Mexico.
“And the smuggler went back under the fence and grabbed one of those softball sized rocks and threw it directly down on the top of my head,” he said.
The blow made Harris forget how to say words in Spanish, and English.
“I had four years of some serious medical issues from that,” Harris said.
The union Harris is a member of endorsed Donald Trump for president. On Tuesday, the commander-in-chief visited California to get his first in-person look at the border wall prototypes. Trump’s gesture meant a lot to border patrol agents, Harris said.
“It is tremendously important to have someone come out and recognize that you’re doing a tough job, and you’re doing it to the best of your ability,” he said. “So yeah, that helps morale.”
Layers of fencing that went up in the 1990s helped agents in San Diego get control of the border, Harris said. But now, portions are aging and dilapidated.
Harris declined a request to visit the prototypes designed for a new border wall. He has been to the site, though, and liked what he saw.
“You know, I work for the government,” Harris said. “I don’t always think it does things the smart way.”
"It is tremendously important to have someone come out and recognize that you’re doing a tough job, and you’re doing it to the best of your ability." —Chris Harris, Border Patrol agent
The prototypes are all higher than the fence where Harris got hurt. The government paid companies, including Fisher Sand & Gravel in Tempe and KWR Construction in Sierra Vista, between $300,000 and $500,000 to build them. Neither company agreed to do an interview for this story.
In Otay Mesa, a coalition of groups supporting the president’s plan rallied a few miles west of where the prototypes stand. Richard Landry sat on top of a utility box wearing a New England Patriots Jersey with Trump’s name on the back.
“I think the wall is a good idea,” he said. “I’m not anti-Mexican. It’s just, I think, you need to have a door to use.”
Landry voted for Barack Obama, he’s not big on politics and he doesn’t always agree with how Trump speaks. Still, he has strong feelings about the president.
“I love him,” Landry said. “And I’d give my life for him.”
Further west, near the San Ysidro Port of Entry, people opposed to Trump’s border wall gathered at a Catholic church. Oldies played through speakers as people waited to hear from activists, clergy and lawmakers.
“We don’t buy into this hatred,” said Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, the California assemblywoman who represents San Diego’s border area. “We don’t buy into this notion that we need a wall to separate us.“
Talking points about a border wall that serve the president in other parts of the country, hurt the people Gonzalez Fletcher represents, she said. A border wall is expensive, unnecessary and would eat up resources that could be used in areas like education and veterans affairs.
“Of course Mexico isn’t paying for it,” Gonzalez Fletcher said.
Harris, with the National Border Patrol Council Local 1613, stood on a bluff overlooking the western edge of the fence jutting out into the Pacific Ocean.
“That road (near the coast) is closed by the San Diego County department of public health,” he said. “That’s raw sewage.”
"We don’t buy into this notion that we need a wall to separate us."
—Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, California assemblywoman
Harris emphasized the danger pollution poses to his fellow agents. He’s eligible to retire at the end of the year. More than two decades working on the border in San Diego have taught him the answer to the border riddle isn’t an easy one.
“There is no simple silver bullet to secure the border,” he said. “It’s a complex problem. You need a complex solution set.”
Border security relies on a three-legged stool of technology, staffing and infrastructure, Harris said. But the border patrol currently has fewer agents than it’s required to by law. Having a completed border wall, though, would provide some help while more people are recruited and trained.
“You can get away with having less agents — to a point — when you have more of that infrastructure and technology,” Harris said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.