EL PASO, Texas -- The federal government has completed a total of 131 miles of border wall in the El Paso sector, the acting commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced in a media call on Tuesday.
"The border wall system proves its worth every day with every mile," said Acting Commissioner Mark Morgan. "We need to know who is coming into our country. The border wall helps us achieve that."
The El Paso sector is made up of about 125,500 square miles, according to CBP. In addition to west Texas, the sector also includes the Santa Teresa, Lordsburg and Deming areas in New Mexico.
In 2019, El Paso was the epicenter of the migrant crisis, as ABC-7 reported extensively that year. On a weekly basis, thousands of migrants crossed into the region. Many of them declared asylum, telling agents they were fleeing violence from their home countries.
Morgan said the agency added almost 450 miles of border wall across the U.S.- Mexico border nationwide, with funding in place to build a total of almost 800 miles of system.
"The vast majority of this is not new wall, but replacement wall," said Angela Kocherga, the news director of KTEP public radio and a border journalist of 30 years.
"It's not to say that those (upgrades) weren't needed, but that's very different than saying 'We put up a brand new wall,'" she said.
But Morgan maintained in a tweet Tuesday that "it's all new wall."
It's all new wall. pic.twitter.com/HwYi5AxVPf— CBP Mark Morgan (@CBPMarkMorgan) January 5, 2021
The commissioner did not comment specifically on the El Paso sector during his roughly 50-minute call, but described the immigration system overall as greatly flawed.
"There's no magic words," Morgan said. "We refer to it as 'broke.'"
Morgan also indicated that nearly 5,000 CBP employees have contracted Covid-19 across the country. He said 21 staffers have died of the virus, largely comprised of agents on the front lines.
"It has had an impact on our workforce, so that is very real," Morgan said.