2020 Could be the High Water Mark for Border Wall Construction

Nearly four years after Donald Trump pledged to build a wall along the 1,954-mile U.S.-Mexico border, how many miles of new barriers have been completed?

It depends on the definition of “new.”

In common parlance, “new” refers to wall segments built where no barrier existed previously. But according to the administration’s broader definition, “new” includes sections that are replacements or upgrades. 

The distinction is important because a full border wall was a signature campaign promise that helped elect Trump in 2016. At that time, more than a thousand miles of America’s southern border had no barriers of any type.

As of this month, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that 275 miles of “new border wall system” have been completed. But that figure merits an asterisk. The Washington Post calculated that, as of October, only 16 miles of fencing had been built where barriers did not already exist.

CBP’s “wall system” terminology indicates that replacement segments are a significant improvement over previous fences. “It’s not just a wall; it’s a wall system. It’s got integrated lighting and technology and access roads,” Acting CBP Commissioner Mark Morgan explained last fall.

Construction of a 14-mile section near San Diego highlights the difference. The project installed 18-foot steel bollards, improved roads and added sensor technology in place of 8-foot, dilapidated and outdated pedestrian fencing to create what CBP calls “a complete enforcement zone.” 

Partnering with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, CBP has begun installing the first panels of wall system in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. The busiest border sector in the nation, the area is Border Patrol’s highest priority location for construction. FAIR reported this month that 69 miles of previously open border in the Laredo sector are ticketed for barricades.

Still, there’s a long, long way to go. USA Today noted that Texas has the largest contiguous unfenced stretch of border: more than 600 miles. The Lone Star State is home to an estimated 1.6 million illegal aliens.

Since January 2017, CBP has received $9.8 billion to install some 509 miles of wall system at various points along the southern border. The agency said last October that it expected to have completed 450 miles by the end of 2020.

But according to its latest figures, CBP is 175 miles short of its projection, with a little more than four months remaining this year. If Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden replaces Trump in the White House, 2020 will mark the end of the line. Biden has vowed that “not another foot of wall” would be built on his watch.

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