The Cable

Final Selection Process for Border Wall Kicks Off

With no clear funding plan in place, Customs and Border Patrol will start reviewing prototypes of President’s Trump’s “big, beautiful wall.”

FORT HANCOCK, TX - OCTOBER 14:  The U.S.-Mexico border fence stops while passing through farmland on October 14, 2016 near Fort Hancock, Texas. Throughout vast stretches of West Texas, the fence starts and stops along the bank of the Rio Grande, which is often nearly drained due to irrigation for crops. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
FORT HANCOCK, TX - OCTOBER 14: The U.S.-Mexico border fence stops while passing through farmland on October 14, 2016 near Fort Hancock, Texas. Throughout vast stretches of West Texas, the fence starts and stops along the bank of the Rio Grande, which is often nearly drained due to irrigation for crops. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

After narrowing down hundreds of proposals submitted this spring, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol is planning to ask less than 20 vendors to submit in-depth design proposals for President Donald Trump’s controversial border wall and will conduct site visits to the border, according to an agency official.

Customs and Border Patrol will eventually choose to construct four to eight prototypes, Carlos Diaz, the Southwest Border Branch Chief of CBP said in an email. The original request invited proposals for two types of prototypes, including a “physically imposing” wall, impossible to scale without help, or to tunnel under, and impenetrable to sledgehammers and battery-operated tools for at least an hour. It also requested designs that would look aesthetically pleasing on the U.S. side.

Even as the agency moves ahead, the funding for the wall remains in doubt. When Congress passed its first budget bill under President Trump on April 28, it conspicuously left out his signature campaign promises — a major boost in funding for a border wall.

But that hasn’t stopped plans for new construction from moving ahead. On Friday, Customs and Border Patrol began the second phase of a process soliciting prototype proposals for a “Solid Concrete Border Wall.”

A FOIA request submitted to the Department of Homeland Security by Foreign Policy for the border wall proposals was denied because the documents are considered competition-sensitive.

Still, some vendors have publicly released parts of their plans. They include see-through, impenetrable, unscalable walls made of mesh wire, a solar panel wall that may help “pay for itself,” and a slippery barrier pitched at an angle that guards could patrol from the top.

The United States currently has 650 miles of fencing on the 1,900 mile border with Mexico. Trump has repeatedly promised to construct a “big, beautiful wall” to stretch across the entire border and make Mexico pay for it.

Yet months into Trump’s administration, it’s still unclear how much new construction on the southern border will cost and where the money will come from. Mexico has repeatedly said it will not pay for a border wall. Estimates vary on the costs — Trump and top Republicans put the number around $12 billion, while Democrats estimate the bill could run up to $70 billion. An internal Department of Homeland Security report predicted a border wall will cost more than $21 billion.

While Trump’s original blueprint budget requested $2.6 billion to kick start the border wall and additional money to hire 10,000 new CBP agents and 5,000 extra ICE agents, Democrats threatened to shut down the government over the issue. Most Republicans were also tepid about committing taxpayer dollars to a physical barrier.  

“I’ve not met anyone — border patrol agent, or fellow members of congress — who has said they think the only effective way to do this is to build a continuous concrete wall along the southwest border, “ Clare McCaskill, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Homeland Security committee, said at a hearing in April. “The only one who keeps speaking about it is President Trump.”

McCaskill and others have demanded to see a cost-analysis plan.They point out that the border includes privately-owned land and difficult terrain, and argue that investment in technology and surveillance may be more appropriate to combat smugglers and traffickers.

The eventual $1 trillion budget passed in April included $1.5 billion for border security, but it will go to upgrading technology along the border and to replace existing fences over the next four years, not construct a new border wall.

Even as he dropped his demands for wall construction funding in the April budget bill, Trump promised to double down on the border when the next budget battle looms in September. “Don’t let the fake media tell you that I have changed my position on the WALL,” he wrote on Twitter. “It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking etc.”

But DHS Secretary John Kelly has signaled potential compromise. Testifying in front of  Senate Homeland Security committee in April, he refrained from plugging a full border wall and acknowledged future border constructions may not extend “from sea to shining sea.”  

Diaz, of Customs and Border Patrol, also indicated there may be room to maneuver. Even as the request for proposals process moves forward, prototypes are “likely to continue to evolve” to meet border patrol needs, he said. The prototypes will give CBP officials an opportunity “to see what capabilities are available and what designs are more suitable to solve the problem in question.”

The plans for new prototypes are funded from $20 million out of the current $376 million Homeland Security Department budget for fencing, infrastructure, and technology. The funds were reallocated from an under-budget fence project in Naco, Arizona, and from a project to install cameras on the top of trucks at the border. Each prototype is expected to cost around $200,000.

Finalists will be selected in June and the about 30-feet long prototypes will be built on federally owned land on the San Diego border.

Photo Credit: JOHN MOORE/Getty Images

Kavitha Surana is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy, where she produces breaking news and original reports with a particular focus on immigration, counterterrorism, and border security policy. Previously, Kavitha worked at New York magazine’s Bedford + Bowery blog, CNNMoney, The Associated Press in Italy, and Fareed Zakaria GPS and has freelanced from Italy and Germany for publications like Quartz, Al Jazeera America, OZY, and GlobalPost/PRI. In 2015, she was awarded a Fulbright trip to Germany, as well as a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation to report on migration and integration. She also reported from Rwanda and Senegal. Kavitha studied European history at Columbia University and holds a master’s degree in journalism and European studies from New York University. She has studied in Italy and Peru and speaks Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. @ksurana6

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