| Susan Montoya Bryan |
ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (AP) – United States (US) President Donald Trump is not giving up on his demand for USD5.7 billion to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, saying a physical barrier is central to any strategy for addressing the security and humanitarian crisis at the southern border.
Democrats argue that funding the construction of a steel barrier along 377 kilometres will not solve the problems. A 2018 government report warns of increased risks that the US wall-building programme will cost more than projected, take longer than planned and not perform as expected.
Walls and fencing now cover about one-third of the 3,145-kilometre-long border. Some construction began with former US President Bill Clinton in the early 1990s, George W Bush ramped up the effort in 2006 and Barack Obama built more than 209 kilometres, mostly during his first year in office.
Between 2007 and 2015, US Customs and Border Protection spent USD2.4 billion to add 861 kilometres of pedestrian and vehicle barriers and other infrastructure along the border.
Trump wants to extend and fortify what’s already in place. But contracting, designing and building new wall systems complete with updated technology could take years, and past experience has shown such work can be complicated and costly.
Here is how much the government has spent on barriers in the states along the Mexican border:
Much of California’s 227 kilometres of border with Mexico was fenced during the Bush administration through a security measure that won congressional approval and had support from key Democrats.
In 2009, the federal government spent about USD16 million a mile on a 5.5-kilometre stretch in San Diego, using about two million tonnes of dirt to fill in a canyon known as Smuggler’s Gulch. The earthen dam was then topped with layers of fencing.
At the Imperial Sand Dunes, the US built a floating fence of five-metre-high steel tubes that can be raised or lowered as the sands shift. The USD6 million-a-mile barrier cuts through a film location for Star Wars: Return of the Jedi that resembles the Sahara.
Both are examples of some of the rugged territory along the border that can result in higher costs.
The Government Accountability Office estimated in 2018 that new border wall construction averages USD6.5 million a mile but terrain, building materials and other factors influence costs. Elsewhere, the Rio Grande’s winding waters and lush vegetation are more challenging for erecting walls than Arizona’s flat deserts.
In 2006, the federal government completed a 48-kilometre stretch of steel barriers to keep people from illegally crossing into the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The barriers were designed to stop vehicles from driving around a checkpoint in Lukeville or up through the desert wilderness. That three-year project had a price tag of USD18 million.
More recently, Barnard Construction Co Inc of Montana was awarded USD172 million for 23 kilometres of new fencing in the Border Patrol’s Yuma Sector. Officials say the total value of that contract
could reach USD324 million for 52 kilometres.
More than a dozen miles of fence were built near Columbus in 2000, stretching from the border town to an onion farm and cattle ranch. A survey done several years later determined that a two-kilometre section that was designed to keep cars from illegally crossing into the US was accidentally built on Mexican soil.
The project was believed to initially cost about USD500,000 a mile, while estimates to uproot and relocate the fencing ranged from USD2.5 million to USD3.5 million.
In 2018, the federal government awarded a USD73 million contract to the same Montana-based company to rip out old vehicle barriers and replace them with a new bollard-style wall of tall metal slats and extensive concrete footings along a 32-kilometre stretch near Santa Teresa. That project was finished months ahead of schedule.
Congress last spring approved USD641 million for 53 kilometres of construction in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal border crossings. Targetted areas include the non-profit National Butterfly Center, a state park and privately owned ranches and farmland.
In El Paso, construction started last fall in the Chihuahuita neighbourhood – the border city’s oldest neighbourhood – to replace six kilometres of chain-link fencing with a new steel bollard wall. The estimated cost: USD22 million.
There has been fencing for decades in cities such as El Paso and San Diego. Once built, increased crackdowns in those areas led to a drop in apprehensions. But authorities have complained that as a result of those efforts, illegal crossings and trafficking activity has been pushed to more remote stretches of the border.