Alicia Caldwell, Associated Press
Settling ground has caused gaps in the border fence near Columbus, N.M. An average-size woman could fit through this spot.

COLUMBUS, N.M. — Illegal immigrants armed with torches, hacksaws, ladders and even bungee cords are making it around a section of the border fence hailed as the most efficient way to stop them.

In the 10 months since the section was put up, the only method federal agents haven't seen is a tunnel — "Yet," said Victor Guzman, the supervisory Border Patrol agent responsible for the stretch of close-together 15-foot concrete-filled steel poles planted 3 feet into the ground.

Agents responsible for guarding the stretch of border here "almost immediately" started seeing cuts in the fence. The towering gray- and rust-colored posts are marked with bright orange spray paint in areas believed to have been breached, Guzman said.

Guzman, who has worked in the area for nearly a decade, said agents have found holes cut with acetylene torches, hacksaws and even plasma torches — a high-powered tool that uses inert gas or condensed air to quickly cut through steel and other dense metals.

"We see it once or twice a week," Guzman said of the holes along the 1.5-mile stretch of fencing about 80 miles west of El Paso.

Officials monitoring cameras in the area have seen at least one group using a massive ladder to scale the south side of the fence. The group tried to drop into the U.S. with bungee cords before agents caught them.

But it's not just illegal immigrants worrying the Border Patrol. The fence itself is starting to settle into the ground and gaps between the posts are widening. In one spot, an average-size woman could wedge herself through one of the gaps.

Border Patrol spokesman Joe Romero said the Columbus fencing, built in June, was ordered before the congressional mandate to build 670 miles of pedestrian and vehicle fencing across the border with Mexico by the end of the year. But its goal is the same: add a layer of security in an otherwise open patch of desert.

Other sections of fencing along the border are being built with panels of woven steel instead of the towering posts.

Detractors have long argued that the fence will do little to stop determined illegal immigrants and smugglers hoping to enter the United States.

Barry Morrissey, a Customs and Border Protection spokesman, did not immediately return a telephone message from The Associated Press on Friday.