NOGALES, Ariz (Reuters) - Nearly three miles of steel fencing marking the Mexico border in Nogales is being replaced with a taller barrier that will be more difficult to breach and help reduce attacks on agents, authorities said on Wednesday.
The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency said it is replacing 2.8 miles of outdated fencing made from surplus aircraft "landing mats" that carves across the southern reach of the city with an 18-foot tall bollard- and steel-mesh fence design.
The new urban barrier will raise the overall height of the fence 6-10 feet in some areas, provide a deeper, more robust foundation below ground, and allow agents who are frequently pelted with rocks hurled from Mexico a clear view across the border into the namesake city of Nogales, in northern Sonora state.
"It's significant for the Border Patrol and the safety level of our agents, as well as the ability for us to do our job and secure the border in Nogales," Sabri Dikman, the acting patrol agent in charge of Nogales Border Patrol station, told reporters.
Nogales, a bustling trade hub with a population of around 20,000 people, is the largest city on the Arizona-Mexico border, and a key gateway into the United States for imported produce grown in Mexico.
The city is also a major corridor for drug and human smugglers from Mexico, who frequently scramble over the current fence or burrow under it, in an often violent duel with Border Patrol agents.
In the last fiscal year, which ended September 30, around 300 assaults were recorded on agents from the Nogales Border Patrol station, most of them involving rock throwing. So far this year there have been more than 100 assaults, all but one along the 2.8-mile stretch of fencing that is being replaced.
"With the new bollard fencing, we have the ability to see through the fence and what approaches the fence ... It allows our agents to be proactive and address and deter the activity at the border," Dikman told reporters gathered near the barrier in downtown Nogales.
The new fence is due for completion in July.
The Customs and Border Protection agency has so far completed a total of approximately 650 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fence along the Southwest border out of the 652 miles mandated by the U.S. Congress.
Arizona straddles the most furiously trafficked corridor into the United States for smugglers running drugs and illegal immigrants up from Mexico, and spiriting guns and illicit cash profits south to Mexico.
(Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Jerry Norton)