Smugglers Getting Over, And Through, Trump’s Border Wall

Smugglers are getting over and through Trump's border wall with material you can buy at your local Home Depot.

Newly constructed pieces of President Trump’s border wall are apparently being made irrelevant by smugglers armed with $100 chain saws that can be purchased at Home Depot:

SAN DIEGO — Smuggling gangs in Mexico have repeatedly sawed through new sections of President Trump’s border wall in recent months by using commercially available power tools, opening gaps large enough for people and drug loads to pass through, according to U.S. agents and officials with knowledge of the damage.

The breaches have been made using a popular cordless household tool known as a reciprocating saw that retails at hardware stores for as little as $100. When fitted with specialized blades, the saws can slice through one of the barrier’s steel-and-concrete bollards in minutes, according to the agents, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the barrier-defeating techniques.

After cutting through the base of a single bollard, smugglers can push the steel out of the way, creating an adult-size gap. Because the bollards are so tall — and are attached only to a panel at the top — their length makes them easier to push aside once they have been cut and are left dangling, according to engineers consulted by The Washington Post.

The taxpayer-funded barrier — so far coming with a $10 billion price tag — was a central theme of Trump’s 2016 campaign, and he has made the project a physical symbol of his presidency, touting its construction progress in speeches, ads and tweets. Trump has increasingly boasted to crowds in recent weeks about the superlative properties of the barrier, calling it “virtually impenetrable” and likening the structure to a “Rolls-Royce” that border crossers cannot get over, under or through.

The smuggling crews have been using other techniques, such as building makeshift ladders to scale the barriers, especially in the popular smuggling areas in the San Diego area, according to nearly a dozen U.S. agents and current and former administration officials.

Mexican criminal organizations, which generate billions of dollars in smuggling profits, have enormous incentive to adapt their operations at the border to new obstacles and enforcement methods, officials say.

The U.S. government has not disclosed the cutting incidents and breaches, and it is unclear how many times they have occurred. U.S. Customs and Border Protection declined to provide information about the number of breaches, the location of the incidents and the process for repairing them. Matt Leas, a spokesman for the agency, declined to comment, and CBP has not yet fulfilled a Freedom of Information Act request seeking data about the breaches and repairs. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees the private contractors building the barrier, referred inquires to CBP.

One senior administration official, who was not authorized to discuss the breaches but spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they amounted to “a few instances” and that the new barrier fencing had “significantly increased security and deterrence” along sections of the border in CBP’s San Diego and El Centro sectors in California.

Current and former CBP officials confirmed that there have been cutting breaches, but they said the new bollard system remains far superior and more formidable than any previous design.


In the San Diego area, smugglers have figured out how to cut the bollards and return them to their original positions, disguising the breaches in the hope that they will go unnoticed and can be reused for repeated passage. Agents said they have learned to drive along the base of the structure looking for subtle defects, testing the metal by kicking the bollards with their boots.

If damage is detected, welding crews are promptly sent to make fixes. The smugglers, however, have returned to the same bollards and cut through the welds, agents say, because the metal is softer and the concrete at the core of the bollard already has been compromised. The smugglers also have tried to trick agents by applying a type of putty with a color and texture that resembles a weld, making a severed bollard appear intact.

Agents in California and Texas said smuggling teams have been using improvised ladders to go up and over the barriers, despite the risk of injury or death from falling; the tallest barriers are approximately the height of a three-story building. Some of the smugglers deploy lightweight ladders made of rebar, using them to get past the “anti-climb panels” that span the top of the barrier.
Once the lead climber reaches the top, agents say, they use hooks to hang rope ladders down the other side. 

The rebar ladders are popular because the metal support rods are inexpensive and are skinny enough to pass through the four-inch gaps between the bollards, making it possible for the smuggling teams to use them to scale the secondary row of fencing, according to agents. Rebar, easily purchased at hardware stores, typically is used within concrete as reinforcement.

President Trump claims to not be concerned:

After years of touting the impenetrability of a border wall, President Donald Trump said Saturday that “you can cut through any wall” as reports surfaced of smugglers sawing through newly erected barriers with readily available power tools.

“We have a very powerful wall. But no matter how powerful, you can cut through anything, in all fairness. But we have a lot of people watching. You know cutting, cutting is one thing, but it’s easily fixed. One of the reasons we did it the way we did it, it’s very easily fixed. You put the chunk back in,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

A Washington Post report published Saturday said smugglers have repeatedly sawed through newly built sections of the wall using a widely available cordless reciprocating saw that costs as little as $100. Gangs are also using makeshift ladders to scale the barriers, the Post reported.

Trump’s statement is a far cry from years of campaigning that a border wall would be nearly impossible for smugglers to overcome. In a visit to one of the construction sites in September, Trump said the border wall is “virtually impenetrable” and could not be climbed.

The fact that smugglers, particularly drug smugglers, have found a way to get through, or over the new border wall is hardly surprising. The financial incentives for them to do so are quite high, and contrary to what the President may want us and his supporters to believe, there is no such thing as a completely impenetrable wall. Every time a government has sought to build a wall, whether to keep people out or keep people in, someone has managed to find a way through, around, or over it, and that’s even doubly true when there is money involved as there obviously is in the case of drug smuggling and, sadly, human traffickers. Additionally, for those people who are crossing borders looking for a better life for themselves or their family the incentives to get past border obstacles. or around them, is rather obvious.

To be fair, the wall when completed is supposed to have some form of electronic monitoring that would alert Border Patrol agents when someone is attempting to breach the wall. That surveillance is not currently in place. However, unless the response by agents is instantaneous or nearly so, it’s likely that those trying to get around, atop of, or through the structure will be long gone by the time agents show up. It’s also likely that those seeking to get past the wall will find ways to disrupt the electronic surveillance. Therefore, while Trump’s wall might stop some people from getting across in certain areas it isn’t going to stop it altogether. And, oh yea, Mexico isn’t going to pay for it.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, Donald Trump, Politicians, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook


  1. Kathy says:

    I am shocked and appalled.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    It’s such a big beautiful wall…

  3. DrDaveT says:

    I’m really hoping someone will put together a montage of dozens of Trump statements about The Wall, juxtaposing the directly contradictory ones.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    One should note, as reported elsewhere, that these sections are part of sixty miles of scheduled replacement for dilapidated existing wall. This is not Trump proceeding with the 2,000 mile WALL.

    “To be fair, the wall when completed is supposed to have some form of electronic monitoring”. To be completely fair, with the electronic monitoring, pretty much any sort of fence or wall will do nicely. And IIRC, the House has been willing to fund additional monitoring.

  5. CSK says:

    Well, since this was reported by the WaPo and Politico, it is, according to Cult45, fake news.

    And speaking of Cult45, I read the following this morning at

    “I trust President Trump because I trust God, and I firmly believe Donald J. Trump is God’s champion to save the United States as founded. Prayer is our greatest weapon. MAGA — it begins on our knees before our God.”

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    The wall has never been about anything practical, it’s a symbol of paranoia and insecurity, American decline and weakness. Trumpaloons love it because they’re small, insecure people. They instinctively crave a smaller pond in the mistaken belief that it will make them bigger fish.

  7. CSK says:

    Didn’t Trump say something about putting a “big, beautiful door” in this wall?
    As for the wall itself–is this one of those instances where we’re supposed to take Trump seriously, but not literally? How does one take any of Trump’s promises seriously but not literally?

  8. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    A reminder that we had to declare a Nat’l Emergency and rob military projects of billions of dollars to pay for this impenetrable wall that is so easily defeated.

  9. Bill says:

    What was the line from the movie ‘Patton’? About fixed fortifications being a monument to man’s stupidity.

  10. CSK says:

    @Bill: Yes. The Maginot Line was a yuuuuge success, wasn’t it?

  11. Electroman says:

    @CSK: The part that’s fake is the reference to “chain saws”, and that is indeed fake news; they’re reciprocating saws sucn as a Milwaukee Sawzall, although they’re using $100.00 knockoffs, not anything made by Milwaukee.

  12. Kathy says:

    You can’t make an impenetrable barrier, but you can make one that’s too expensive ro breach. The model El Cheeto and his deplorables are groping for is the Berlin Wall.

  13. CSK says:

    @Electroman: Well, Cult45 doesn’t read the WaPo, or the NYT, or Politico, on the grounds that everything in them is fake news, so I doubt they fastened on that particular detail.

  14. Mister Bluster says:

    I am old enough to remember hearing news reports on the radio about the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 when I was 13 years old. After 28 years it was an unbeliveable historical event when it came down in 1989.
    If anyone is ever crossing the Show-Me State on Interstate 70 take an hour or so and get off at Exit 148, US Route 54. It’s only 15 miles south to Fulton Missouri and the campus of Westminster College where Winston Churchill made his famous Iron Curtain speech.
    Several sections of the Berlin Wall are on display there.
    All I could say to myself when I visited the site was “What were the East Germans thinking?”

  15. Pylon says:

    @Kathy: True, and that wall was only about 27 miles long, and had 302 guard towers and 55,000 landmines. I suppose the latter could be replaced by moats with gators/snakes/sharks.

  16. Tyrell says:

    @Mister Bluster: There was a time when most people thought they would not see the Berlin Wall end. What a great day it was when it finally came tumbling down, this the result of Gorbachev’s moderate reforms and a communications foul up in East Berlin. I know a couple of people who bought pieces of the Wall, still available. A relative served in Berlin. He said there was a line painted and if you crossed the line, the East Berlin guards started shooting.
    But the Wall may well have prevented WWIII, which almost broke out right before the Wall was built.
    Read “Berlin 1961: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and the most dangerous place on earth”

  17. Kathy says:


    Randall Munroe’s new book, How To, explains how to build a lava moat. That would be very effective, if a tad troublesome for people living nearby.

    Still, it would use up so much energy you’d have to build new coal-fired plants, which would exacerbate the greenhouse gas situation. And crossing over hot lava is so dangerous, you may as well close the border permanently. In other words, for the Deplorables and their Omega male leader, it has no downside at all.

  18. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Ya know, I was a union carpenter. I built shit. I don’t mean I paid other people to build shit, I mean I actually put steel to concrete with my own 2 f’n hands and built shit. Having built it I knew exactly how to tear it down, because sometimes I had to tear down shit that other carpenters/laborers/ironworkers/masons had built. If it can be built, I can tear it down. Show me a wall and I’ll put a hole in it.

    I am not the smartest mfer to ever walk this planet.nor some kind of genius. I just know how things are built. Guess what? There are millions more like me..

  19. grumpy realist says:

    I still think they should replace it all with a moat for the sharks with frickin’ laser beams strapped to their heads. Maybe add some alligators and hybrid pythons as well. That way Florida will be happy and Trump will get his barrier. Win-win.

  20. de stijl says:

    Why it’s almost as if building a wall is a stupidly poor allocation of resources. Who could have predicted that?

  21. Blue Galangal says:

    @grumpy realist: You just took Sharknado to the next level. Respect.

  22. David M says:

    A sawzall? They’re cutting through the wall with a sawzall? The stupid, it burns