The evolution of Trump’s wall

Since Donald Trump announced his bid for the presidency in 2015, his fans have demanded that the real estate executive, known for developing skyscrapers and golf courses, build one more thing: a wall, wide and tall, along the border with Mexico. “Build that wall!” they chanted. “Build that wall!” he chanted, too.

It was a far-fetched plan that even some Republicans opposed. Now, more than a year after Trump’s election, his promise of a wall has evolved from a cross-country rally cry into a $25 billion budgetary demand. Here’s how.

Cover photo: Charles Ommanney/The Washington Post

This browser does not support the video element.

The Washington Post; Reuters

During the campaign, Trump’s hard-line immigration views were his most valuable political capital.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

“We need a wall… Obama has split up the country and Trump has started to bring it back together.”

‘Chief’ Cherevas, 54, at a 2016 Trump rally

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Democrats have opposed the wall, seeing it as a symbol of what they view as Trump's xenophobic policies, and dismissed his claims that Mexico will pay for it.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

“We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries,” Trump said at his inauguration. “I will never let you down.” And so it began: the great anticipation of a presidential promise.

Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post

Jan. 25, 2017


Less than a week after taking the oath of office, Trump moved to turn his promise of a border wall into a reality by signing an executive order calling for “the immediate construction of a physical wall.” Although Trump said building would begin within months, neither a timeline nor a financial blueprint was outlined in the directive.

This browser does not support the video element.


Jan. 26, 2017


Trump’s wall directive — and insistence that Mexico fund it — prompted Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to cancel a White House meeting on immigration, trade and the drug war. “Mexico does not believe in walls,” Peña Nieto said. Sean Spicer, then the White House press secretary, later suggested a 20 percent import tax on Mexican goods could finance the wall. In August, The Washington Post reported the full transcript of Trump’s first phone call with the Mexican president on Jan. 27.

TRUMP …You and I are both at a point now where we are both saying we are not to pay for the wall… We cannot say that anymore because if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that.

PEÑA NIETO …This is what I suggest, Mr. President — let us stop talking about the wall. I have recognized the right of any government to protect its borders as it deems necessary and convenient. But my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.

TRUMP But you cannot say that to the press. The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that… I cannot negotiate under those circumstances.

PEÑA NIETO …Let us for now stop talking about the wall. Let us look for a creative way to solve this issue, for this to serve both your government, my government, and both of our societies.

TRUMP …Okay, Enrique, that is fine and I think it is fair. I do not bring up the wall but when the press brings up the wall, I will say, “Let us see how it is going — let us see how it is working out with Mexico.”

Another immigration directive — Trump’s “travel ban” — briefly halted the entry of people from seven Muslim-majority countries, prompting protests.

Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post

“We must restore integrity and the rule of law at our borders… We will soon begin the construction of a great, great wall.”

President Trump, first address before a joint session of Congress on Feb. 28, 2017

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

April 28, 2017


After Trump threatened to force a government shutdown if Congress did not fund a border wall, the government remained open after all — and the president got no money for his campaign promise. Republicans withdrew a roughly $1 billion funding request but insisted on increasing spending for general border security, including money to repair existing fencing. Congress passed a short-term budget bill and Trump signed it.

“Building that wall and having it funded remains an important priority to him, but we also know that that can happen later this year and into next year.”

Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, on “Fox & Friends”

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

May 3, 2017


At a White House briefing, Spicer presented photos of damaged parts of the existing border fence and said money already allocated to the Department of Homeland Security would fund repairs. Charlie Spiering, a reporter at the pro-Trump outlet Breitbart, questioned whether the replacement fencing was a good substitute for the promised wall.

This browser does not support the video element.

The White House

As summer stretched into fall, the border wall took a back seat to other issues, including health-care reform and the investigation into election meddling by Russia.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

But the wall did stir some controversy occasionally — particularly when Trump said it should be transparent to protect border agents from “large sacks of drugs” hurled over the top.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Jan. 20, 2018


After a three-day closure, Congress passed a bipartisan, short-term budget to fund the government through Feb. 8. Senate Democrats wanted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program set to expire in March. That didn’t happen, but when McConnell promised a vote on immigration reform in the coming weeks, Democrats relented.

“I expect the majority leader to fulfill his commitment to the Senate, to me and to the bipartisan group, and abide by this agreement. If he does not… he will have breached the trust of not only the Democratic senators, but members of his own party.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), on the shutdown

Matt McClain/The Washington Post

At the White House, the budget negotiations also prompted internal squabbling after Trump’s chief of staff, John F. Kelly, addressed the president’s campaign promises on TV.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

This browser does not support the video element.

Fox News

Jan. 24, 2018


Days after the government reopened, and a week before his first State of the Union address, the negotiator in chief offered Congress a new deal: If they gave him a $25 billion “trust fund” for construction of his border wall, he’d give them a path to citizenship for 1.8 million “dreamers” previously protected by DACA. It remains unclear whether Senate Democrats, who have been staunchly opposed to funding the wall, will accept the deal, which also includes a proposal to curb legal immigration.

“Nobody knows for sure that the Republicans & Democrats will be able to reach a deal on DACA by Feb. 8, but everyone will be trying… with a big additional focus put on Military Strength and Border Security.”

Trump, on Twitter on Jan. 23, 2018

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post



During the shutdown, Schumer reportedly agreed to fund the wall if Trump protected “dreamers.” But that never came to fruition, and Schumer later rescinded the offer.

Oliver Contreras for The Washington Post

Immigration activists and Democrats’ most liberal — and least vulnerable — lawmakers have hurtled criticism at the idea of negotiating a wall deal.

Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post

One year into the Trump administration, those hard-line immigration views — the ones that gave him the White House — remain center stage. His wall and the future for dreamers hang in the balance.

Congress has until March 23 to find common ground or face yet another government shutdown. It seems the president, however, remains unwaveringly committed to fulfilling his signature campaign promise.

“Cryin’ Chuck Schumer fully understands, especially after his humiliating defeat, that if there is no Wall, there is no DACA. We must have safety and security, together with a strong Military, for our great people!”

Trump, on Twitter on Jan. 23, 2018

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

Photo editing by Nick Kirkpatrick

Video editing by Zhiyan Zhong and Jayne Orenstein

Graphics by Leslie Shapiro

Design by Joanne Lee and Matthew Callahan

Writing by Katie Mettler

Reporting by The Washington Post