Trump's famous wall with Mexico and who is paying for it

18/10/2020

The construction of a wall on the border with Mexico is one of Donald Trump's main objectives. The proposal came with another commitment: Mexico would pay the costs of the ambitious work.

"Build the wall! Build the wall! Build the wall!" This was one of the most repeated chants by Donald Trump's fervent supporters at his presidential campaign rallies in 2016. Quickly, the "insurmountable, big, beautiful wall" that Trump was going to build on the U.S.-Mexico border became one of the banner promises of his candidacy. The proposal was also accompanied by another commitment: Mexico would pay the costs of the ambitious work.

Four years later, in the midst of his reelection campaign, the president says the wall will soon be ready and that Mexico is paying for it. "We have already built 300 miles of the border wall," Trump exclaimed at an August 28 rally in New Hampshire, just after the Republican National Convention. "The wall will soon be ready and our numbers on the border are the best in history. By the way, Mexico is paying for the wall, in case you didn't know," the president added.

Since then, in all his campaign events, including those this week in Florida and Pennsylvania in his reappearance after the covid-19 contagion, Trump has insisted on these two ideas: that the wall is advancing rapidly and that the bill is on the Mexican side. Are these figures true? What is the current status of the wall?

Understanding the Border

The border between the United States and Mexico is 3,142 kilometers long. Before Trump arrived at the White House, there were barriers or separation fences on one-third of the border, about 1,050 km. In most urban areas, the barriers are made to prevent the passage of pedestrians and vehicles.

The fences are of various types: in some segments, they are panels of sheet or corrugated steel, in other parts, there is a wire mesh or several overlapping ones, and in certain sectors, there are vertical bars that measure between 5.5 and 9.1 meters high placed on cement and separated by small spaces.

In the most remote areas, the government uses "vehicular fences", which are wooden cross-posts (usually obtained from railway tracks) that prevent the passage of vehicles but can be overcome by pedestrians. At the border post between San Diego and Tijuana, the fences go up to 100 meters into the sea and are made of materials resistant to rust and salt corrosion.

In the rest of the border, where there are mountainous areas, deserts, wetlands, and channels around the Rio Bravo (or the Rio Grande), there is no man-made structure: nature forms its own barrier. At some points, the border has two or even three layers of barriers, one behind the other. The authorities refer to them as primary, secondary, and tertiary barriers.

Trump's Promise and Numbers

During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to build the wall along the entire border. He later clarified that he would only cover half of it, since nature takes care of the rest. Difficulties in finding funding for the wall delayed the president's plans.

Now, a few weeks before the elections and with more than three and a half years of government behind him, Trump boasts that the wall is practically ready. The president says that 480 km have already been built and expects a total of 800 km to be completed by early 2021. But the official figures show a different side.

The U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) sent the BBC Mundo its latest report on the state of the fence, with data updated to September 4, 2020.

From January 2017 -when Trump became president - until early September, approximately 507 kilometers of the so-called "new border fence system" has been built, which in addition to barriers with steel beacons includes patrols, all-weather roads, lighting, cameras, and other surveillance technologies such as sensors or drones. If you compare the numbers with the numbers Trump handles, there's hardly any difference.

What happens is that most of the 507 km built - some 451 km - are replacements or repairs of existing structures that were deteriorated (421 km of primary barriers and 30 km of secondary barriers). In conclusion, only 56 km of the new wall has been built, of which 43 km correspond to secondary barriers, leaving a total of 13 km of completely new primary barriers.

The difficulties of building from scratch

The fact that the government has not been able to move forward with the construction of an entirely new wall is explained by several reasons. One of them is the already mentioned difficulty in building in areas where nature prevails, especially in the vicinity of the Rio Grande.

It should also be taken into account that many of the barrier-free zones are on privately owned land and their owners are not willing to allow a wall to be erected on their land. Unlike the western states, where much of the land is under government control, there are hundreds of riverside farms, ranches, and other privately owned properties in Texas. Some lack property records, others are in the hands of multiple heirs.

The government plans to use its right of eminent domain to acquire the land, but the process is slow and involves legal actions that can take time. These obstacles are compounded by the lack of the total budget needed to complete the promised construction. Which brings us to the next point: who is paying for the wall?

Mexico in the spotlight

On January 25, 2017, Trump signed a decree authorizing the construction of the wall on the southern border. A few months later, in April, Trump had to give up on the work in his first fiscal year as president, as was his promise. The president insisted that the great infrastructure work would be financed by Mexico.

The then Mexican President, Enrique Peña Nieto, rejected that statement and assured on several occasions that his country would not pay for any wall. And in their recent meeting at the White House, both Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Trump avoided talking about the delicate issue. Even so, the U.S. president insists that Mexico is "paying" for the wall, something that official data also contradicts.

According to CBP, the funding for the construction comes from the Departments of National Security, Defense, and Treasury. This has been made possible by the declaration of a state of national emergency at the border signed by Trump on February 15, 2019, which is still in effect. The president justified the declaration as necessary to protect the country from a "drug and criminal invasion" coming from Mexico and which poses "a serious risk to national security".

The measure allowed him to divert $6.3 billion in the Defense Department's anti-drug budget items to the wall. That amount was supplemented by $3.6 billion from the Defense Department's budget for military construction plus about $3.4 billion from the annual budgets of the CBP (which reports to the Department of Homeland Security).

All of these items plus the $1.375 billion that did pass Congress in 2018 total about $15 billion, less than the $25 billion initially budgeted for the construction of the fence. In any case, none of these funds seem to come from Mexico.

Source: BBC Mundo