Says wall would be beneficial
Building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will enhance security and help agents in their mission, according to Ronald Vitiello, the national head of the U.S. Border Patrol.
“I’ve seen its impact and its effect on border security,” he said. “I believe that a barrier, a wall, will help us do our work. It will help these agents be better prepared and safer as they do that work, and it will reduce a lot of traffic that comes in from the south.”
Vitiello visited the Laredo Sector on Monday and spoke with the Laredo Morning Times about his visit to the Gateway City, where he began his career in 1985.
Vitiello’s nomination as U.S. Border Patrol chief came as President Donald J. Trump vowed to build a wall between Mexico and United States to try to stem the illegal flow of immigrants into the United States.
Following his nomination, the National Border Patrol Council released a statement saying he brings “invaluable” experience.
Last month, Laredo Mayor Pete Saenz said he was offended at the idea of building a wall in Laredo.
“Can you imagine going into the downtown area and seeing that? Any type of wall would be visibly unfriendly,” Saenz said. “Walls are meant to divide, and we don’t need any additional division.
“We do recognize that the border has to be secured, but not with a wall. It’s not a good idea.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, also said Trump’s order is offensive, especially considering that Trump signed it while Mexican secretaries were visiting Washington, D.C. to discuss NAFTA.
“If they push Mexico out of NAFTA, it will be the largest foreign policy mistake the U.S. has made in decades,” Cuellar said.
But Vitiello said he has seen the benefits of having a barrier when he was sector chief in the Rio Grande Valley.
“I’ve seen its benefits. My take is that the American public has always had a demand for border security. They’ve articulated (that) in different ways. This latest articulation was brought by the then-candidate, now president who said we’re going to build a wall,” he said.
Vitiello said he realized the wall is going to have an impact on Mexico and people who live along the border. But the relationship with Mexico, he said, “couldn’t be better” in the last five years. Border Patrol will continue to look for opportunities to work together with Mexico.
“It’s a physical structure that helps us do our work better. It helps protect the border better. It’s not without cost. It’s not without some impact and pain for folks, but the end goal is to have a safer border. I think we’re going to have that. That’s a good thing for Mexico and that’s a good thing for us,” the chief said.
In order to be effective as the Border Patrol chief, Vitiello said he has to understand the challenges and issues facing agents in the field.
“The men and women in the field, they are sacrificing to protect America. They know more about what gets done and what needs to get done as it relates to Border Patrol and border security,” he said.
Concerns here are not that different from other locations he has visited. Some include limitations with equipment, training, access to the river and Carrizo cane, an invasive species that impedes law enforcement officers’ line of sight.
Vitiello says he brings “real dedication” to the agents and more than 30 years of experience.
“I think I have an opportunity to use that experience and that interest to make it better for the individual agents,” he said.
Now and then
Vitiello was sworn in as an agent Feb. 25, 1985, in Laredo.
“I wouldn’t trade a minute that I’ve had in the Border Patrol for any other career,” he said.
Changes, he said, have happened for the best. From using a typewriter to filing paperwork electronically, Vitiello said technology has played a key role in safeguarding America.
“We’re much more capable now than we were then, but the adversary is also much more violent and capable,” Vitiello said.
Powerful drug cartels can have unlimited resources at their disposal. They can buy top-of-the-line equipment to stay one step ahead of law enforcement and have the power to corrupt governments.
Supporting Border Patrol
Vitiello said that during the past 15 years, he has seen more and more Americans grow concerned about border security.
“When I was in the Border Patrol, most of the people that care how well the Border Patrol did were people who lived in border communities or Border Patrol agents,” Vitiello said. “Now, I think there are more stakeholders, more people interested in having a discussion about border security and supporting the Border Patrol and supporting the mission of protecting America.”
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