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Beyond promises that the wall would stem the flow of drugs and undocumented immigrants, there have been few details. That has begun to change.
From his first speech as a candidate to some of his first actions as president, Donald Trump has promised to build a “big, beautiful” wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
But beyond Trump’s assurances that a nearly 2,000-mile wall would stem the flow of undocumented immigrants, criminals and drugs, there have been few details. That began to change in February when U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency tasked with securing the border, outlined the first steps: choosing and testing designs to see what will work best.
That process has, however, been bumpy. The latest hitch came this week in the form of a last-minute deadline extension because of confusion over the agency’s request for proposals.
Here’s what we know so far about plans for the border wall.
What will the wall look like?
Trump has said the border wall would be a physical, concrete structure spanning the 1,900-mile southwest U.S. border.
His Jan. 25 executive order instructing CBP to build it amplified that definition to a “contiguous, and impassable physical barrier.” And CBP’s February request for design proposals included these requirements:
- “Imposing in height,” which the agency defined as at least 18 feet but ideally about 30 feet tall, and extending 6 feet underground to discourage tunneling.
- With features on top to make it impossible to jump over using ladders, hooks or other climbing aids.
- And, heeding Trump’s desire for a “beautiful” wall, that the north, U.S.-facing side be “aesthetically pleasing” and consistent with the surrounding area.
CBP hasn’t yet settled on a material. It has two design categories: reinforced, solid concrete; and undefined, which can include various materials. The main specification for the non-concrete designs is that the barrier be see-through so U.S. border agents can view activities on the Mexico side.
As of Thursday, more than 200 companies had expressed interest in submitting designs. CBP will award several contracts, but has not specified the number.
How will it get built?
Construction of a wall over such diverse topography — including mountains, vast canyons, rivers and lakes — will be a historic undertaking.
Trump’s administration has released few details about their approach to construction. The focus for now is on designing, building and testing prototypes. CBP will build several of the prototypes and test them before requesting proposals for the actual wall.
Questions remain about the effectiveness of this process. The prototypes will all be built in San Diego, one of the most fortified sections of the border. Also, the terrain there is very different from Arizona’s desert and the river floodplains that make up much of the border in Texas.
When does construction begin?
Trump said he would like to see construction start in September. CBP appears to be trying to stick to that time line, but it will be challenging given the delays.
The deadline to submit design ideas for the wall prototypes already has been extended three times. The latest due date is April 4.
Prototype testing is expected to take between three and four months, following a 30-day period for construction sometime in June/July.
Experts said that time line is surprisingly short.
Paul Malyszek, chief operating officer for M3 Federal Contract Group, a consulting firm for government contractors, said moving that fast on a big project without clearly defined expectations can lead to confusion and disputes between the government and contractors, driving up costs and causing delays.
Who will pay for it?
Trump’s campaign rallies featured a trademark exchange between the candidate and crowd, with Trump asking who would pay for the wall and supporters shouting back in unison, “Mexico!”
That’s easier chanted than done. The Mexican government has firmly objected to that plan, and Trump has for now turned to Congress for funding.
The government estimates the wall will cost about $21 billion.
This week, Trump submitted a proposal to cut domestic spending to pay for the first phase of wall construction. If approved, 2017 appropriations would set aside $999 million for wall planning, design, and construction. His 2018 budget proposal includes $2.6 billion more for that purpose.
Democrats have vowed to fight any effort to have U.S. taxpayers to foot the bill. And some Republicans are voicing concerns over the cost and its potential impact on other budget-related negotiations.
Where will construction start?
When construction of the wall begins, the Trump administration has said it will focus on two areas: San Diego and Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. In requesting immediate funding from Congress, the administration indicated it seeks $350 million for construction in San Diego and $500 million for work near McAllen, Texas.
CBP officials have acknowledged, and experts agree, that the greatest need is in south Texas. The area has seen the biggest spike in Border Patrol apprehensions over the past few years and is one of the busiest drug-trafficking corridors, along with Arizona.
The surge in apprehension is largely attributed to unaccompanied minors and families fleeing violence in Central America and seeking asylum in the U.S.