The Trump administration plans to build a mix of new and replacement walls along about 100 miles of the Mexican border using $1.6 billion authorized by Congress, a senior official said Friday.
The ultimate goal is to build a wall along 1,000 miles of the border — half the length of the frontier between the two countries, said Ronald Vitiello, the acting deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
President Trump repeatedly has said he wants to erect a wall along the entire 2,000-mile border. After Congress rejected his request for $25 billion to pay for it, Trump has suggested that the money could come from the military’s budget.
Vitiello said 654 miles of the border already have some sort of fencing, though some of it is dilapidated and needs upgrading.
Eight wall prototypes, measuring 13 to 30 feet high, have been erected on a dusty lot near San Diego, but caveats in the spending bill passed by Congress this month mean they cannot be used in the initial 100-mile phase.
“We appreciate this down payment for our needs,” Vitiello said while updating reporters on plans for a wall in half a dozen sites. However, he added, “it does not fully fund our needs in the most critical locations.”
This week, Trump tweeted photos of some fencing going up near Calexico, Calif., describing it as the start of his envisioned border wall. That construction is to replace an aging fence and has been planned since 2009.
Vitiello described all of the proposed “wall system” as new, even if it was planned under a previous administration, because the money was not available before.
He also rejected the conclusions of a report published this month by the Democratic staff of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. It said most of the 900 border agents it queried were less interested in walls than in additional high-tech tools like sensors and cameras, or even more horse patrols and all-terrain vehicles.
“Walls work,” Vitiello said. “The data show it, and agents know it.”
The money appropriated by Congress will go to fund projects in California, Texas and New Mexico. In addition to two miles of replacement barrier in Calexico, it will pay for 14 miles of replacement wall near San Diego, with 14 miles of secondary fencing; 20 miles of new wall near Santa Teresa, N.M., with construction expected to begin in early April; and four miles of new fencing in El Paso. In Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, it will fund 25 miles of levee wall and eight miles of new border wall.