PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Donald Trump visited the U.S. border with Mexico on Tuesday for quite possibly the last time as President. Trump was celebrating the new replacement fencing that has gone up along the border during his term in office.
"I kept my promises. And today, we celebrate an extraordinary milestone, the completion of 450 miles of border wall," said Trump.
But data compiled by the U.S. Border Patrol are raising new questions about whether the multi-billion dollar wall is worth the price tag. CBS 5 Investigates found that more people crossed the southwest border illegally and were apprehended last month than during any December since 2000. The main point, critics say, is that people are getting past the wall.
According to statistics published by Customs and Border Protection, 70,630 migrants were apprehended in the southwest border area last month. In December of the fiscal year 2019, 50,751 people were arrested after crossing the southwest border with Mexico. And during the December before Trump was elected to office, the number was 37,014.
Much of the southwest border does not have a wall-type barrier, but some of the increases appear to be taking place in areas where a new border wall has been constructed.
In the Border Patrol's Tucson Sector, which encompasses most of the Arizona border with Mexico, and where much of the new border fence has gone up, 11,137 people were arrested after illegally crossing the border this past December. In 2019, that number was 4,912. Critics argue that the increasing numbers after the new border fence was added show that it does not work.
"It could be 100 feet tall, and it's not going to stop, you know, drug trafficking and migrants," said John Kurc, who spent the past four months documenting border wall construction.
While at the border, Kurc says he saw the materials that border crossers use to climb the new, 30-foot tall barrier.
At a secluded spot in southeast Arizona, the San Pedro River flows north from Mexico and crosses the United States border, running under a majestic canopy of tall cottonwood trees.
"I looked at the wall. Itself, and on the bollards, they had tied these strips of material very, very tightly. And it was like a ladder that actually, that's where they were walking up or climbing up the wall," said Kurc.
Kurc believes the clear-cutting and roadways the construction crews have left behind have made it easier for migrants to cross in places where the natural terrain used to be too steep and rugged.
"These refugees, refugees, now are actually crossing in the same areas that they never did before," said Kurc.
Officials with the U.S. Border Patrol have stated that the new barrier, in and of itself, is only part of the strategy for deterring illegal immigration. But officials with the Trump administration sold the wall to the American public as a necessary and effective tool.
During Trump's final Presidential visit to the border, he referred to the wall as "successful," although he did not mention the increase in border crossers.