by Anna Giaritelli
SAN DIEGO, California — The Trump administration has not installed a single mile of new wall in a previously fenceless part of the U.S.-Mexico border in the 30 months since President Trump assumed office, despite his campaign promise to construct a “big beautiful wall.”
In a statement last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the federal agency overseeing border barrier construction, confirmed that all the fencing completed since Trump took office is “in place of dilapidated designs” because the existing fence was in need of replacement.
The agency said that it had built 51 miles of steel bollard fence with funding that was set aside during fiscal 2017 and 2018. But while the funding was meant both to replace outdated walls and to place barriers where there previously had been none, the government has only completed the replacement projects. The projects to secure areas with no fence are still in the works.
The 50 miles of completed replacement barrier is a 10-mile gain since early April. In Trump’s two and a half years in office, his administration has installed an average 1.7 miles of barrier per month, and none of it in areas that did not previously have some sort of barrier. A total 205 miles of new and replacement barrier has been funded in the two and a half years since Trump took office.
A senior administration official told the Washington Examiner that Border Patrol and the Army Corps of Engineers moved faster on replacement projects than the new ones because the approval process for environmental and zoning permits was far less extensive than areas of the border with no barrier.
A second senior official defended the progress the administration’s progress and blamed Democrats in Congress for blocking funding for additional projects the White House has tried to move on.
“The wall projects are moving along as quickly as practicably possible given the unprecedented obstruction from Democrat lawmakers to protect and prolong open borders,” the official wrote in a statement. “These same obstructionists, including many who once supported border barriers, are the same people who would abolish ICE and DHS, let criminals run free across our borders, and turned a blind eye to the scourge human trafficking and child sex slavery enabled by their policies.”
Despite the lack of new barriers, Trump has applauded his administration for building more border wall. His 2020 campaign has made the border wall its primary messaging.
Trump’s 2020 campaign debuted the slogan “Finish the Wall” at his first rally of 2019 in El Paso, Texas. At one point during his speech, the crowd began cheering “build that wall.” Trump responded, “Now, you really mean ‘finish that wall,’ because we’ve built a lot of it,” though he did not share numbers with the thousands of people in attendance.
The White House initially persuaded Congress to fund replacement projects in 2017, then moved in 2018 to get more money for both replacement fencing and projects in parts of the border that have no barrier.
Congress in 2017 approved $341 million for 40 miles of replacement wall in San Diego, California; Santa Teresa, North Mexico; Calexico, California; and El Paso, Texas.
“To this date, CBP has completed the construction of approximately 99 percent of the 40 miles funded in fiscal year 2017. Additionally, construction of 35 gates to close gaps in current border infrastructure in the Rio Grande Valley sector continues,” the Department of Homeland Security agency said in a statement.
In the 2018 omnibus government funding bill, lawmakers approved $1.375 billion for 80 miles of new and replacement wall in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, various regions of California, and Yuma, Arizona. CBP said it has finished roughly 10 miles of that portion, of which none has been new fencing.
Meanwhile, the administration maintains that significant portions of new wall will be finished in the time remaining in Trump’s term. Army Corps Commanding Gen. Todd T. Semonite said earlier this spring the Corps will put up 450 miles of wall by November 2020.
However, CBP reiterated this month it is only moving on the approximately 205 miles that have been funded as of 2019, including with Treasury Forfeiture Fund dollars Trump redirected through executive action in February. The remaining 85 miles that has already been funded was proposed this year and is intended for the Rio Grande Valley of Texas — some of which is meant to be new wall.
The Trump administration was sued earlier this spring after seizing $6.6 billion in military and other department funding to use for border wall construction. The Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the White House plan from going forward. The court is expected to rule in the next few weeks.
Roughly 700 miles of the 2,000-mile border has some sort of barrier as a result of the Secure Fence Act, which was passed by Congress during the George W. Bush administration. It was the first major piece of legislation that funded the construction of barriers along the southern border.
Approximately 400 miles is steel fencing comparable to the planned new wall, only shorter. The other 300 miles of barrier is Normandy style, or a handful of steel beams fastened together to prevent vehicular traffic from getting by. However, the four-foot-tall fence does not prevent people from crossing.