A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection confirmed to CBS News that smugglers are sawing through portions of the wall at the The Washington Post first reported Saturday that in recent months smugglers have used commercially available power tools to saw gaps in the bollards in new sections of the border wall, and have also used makeshift ladders to scale and climb over the wall., although he downplayed the extent of the breaches.
CBP spokesman Matt Leas disputed the Post's characterization of these repeated breaches, telling CBS News that "it's happening but not to the point where it's an issue."
Leas confirmed the Post's reporting that these breaches have amounted to a few instances, arguing that the new border fencing has significantly increased security and deterrence. While there have been cutting breaches in the new border wall, Leas confirmed that CBP still considers the bollard system superior to previous barrier designs.
"Any characterization that the wall is not working is ridiculous. The wall is working. Criminals are trying to defeat it and they are going to continue to try new tactics, which we will also defeat," Leas said.
Leas said he has spoken with numerous border patrol agents about the border wall, and that they have all said that it is important, it helps, and they need it. He claimed CBP agents have told him: "We 100% need the border wall."
A Homeland Security official insisted to CBS News that "the bottom line is the wall works as far as buying time and space for agents to be able to respond to people breaching it. And that's really what it comes down to."
"It's not about whether people can breach it or not, there's nothing people can't breach," the official said. "It's about the capability for the agents on the ground. This is a wall system. There are cameras, there are sensors, there's the wall. All of that buys agents time and space to be able to respond. If someone cuts through the wall, by the time they finish there's going to be an agent standing right there."
Building the wall at the southern border has been a key priority for President Trump. Mr. Trump declared a national emergency in February to secure funds to build the wall after Congress refused to appropriate money for its construction.
As Mr. Trump headed to New York City on Friday, he told reporters he hadn't heard about the breaches, but "you can cut through any wall."
"We have a very powerful wall, but no matter how powerful you can cut through anything, in all fairness," Mr. Trump said. "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. But we have a very powerful wall."
Mr. Trump has repeatedly claimed that new portions of the wall are already being built, although Mark Morgan, acting chief of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol,at the White House in October that none of the 71 new miles of border wall the administration has built are new "linear miles." That means the administration is thus far replacing existing barricades or wall instead of adding wall in places where no barricade or wall existed.
The Trump administration aims to build more than 400 miles of border wall by the end of 2020.
Kathryn Watson contributed to this report