A strip of fabric reading “No Walls” is seen tied to a border fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico. (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg)

Whatever Happened to Trump’s Wall? It’s in Pieces in the Desert

(Bloomberg) -- Almost a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, the border wall he passionately promoted throughout his election campaign amounts to eight prototypes, no more than 30 feet long each, sitting in a desert outside San Diego.

No funding has been appropriated by Congress to advance the project beyond the testing phase. There’s no final design. And despite Trump’s rallying cry that Mexico would pay for the barrier, that country hasn’t contributed a peso.

The wall, an emotional centerpiece of Trump’s populist candidacy, is resurfacing as Washington turns from tax legislation to a fight over government spending for the rest of the fiscal year. A spending package Congress plans to debate in January will test whether his promise can ever be fulfilled.

Tensions over immigration are returning to center stage as Democrats seek to use the January spending measure to restore legal protections against deportation to hundreds of thousands of people brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Trump has said he would like an agreement to fund the wall in return, and he resumed pressing for the wall even as he celebrated Republicans’ tax overhaul.

“We’re calling on Congress to fund the border wall, which we’re getting very close to,” Trump said Dec. 20 during a Cabinet meeting at the White House. “We have some wonderful prototypes that have been put up. And I may be going there, very shortly, to look at them in their final form.”

Pillar of Campaign

Despite being a central component of Trump’s winning presidential campaign, the border wall has run into opposition from both Democrats and Republicans. As the White House seeks to recap its accomplishments--senior administration officials gathered reporters last Thursday to tout Trump’s first year--significant progress on a border wall is not one of them.

“I’m not surprised, that a year into his presidency, we say ‘Gee, why hasn’t that wall been built?”’ said Barbara Perry, a presidential historian at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “Well that was one of those things that was so outrageous that it was never going to happen.”

The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Trump has occasionally vented frustration with the pace of progress on the wall, but has nonetheless projected confidence that it will eventually be built.

“We’re going to get the wall,” Trump said Dec. 8 at the White House. “If we don’t get the wall, then I got a lot of very unhappy people, starting with me.”

Executive Order

In April and September, Congress passed short-term funding bills that didn’t include any funding for the proposed wall.

Recently, Trump has pointed to the prototypes as a sign of progress.

The prototypes, which were completed in October near San Diego, were funded with money re-purposed from the existing Department of Homeland Security budget. Trump signed an executive order in January calling on the department to “immediately plan, design and construct a physical wall along the southern border.”

The structures are about 30-feet tall and at least six feet deep, and are currently being tested for durability and evaluated for other features such as aesthetics, said Carlos Diaz, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Four of the prototypes were made of reinforced concrete, and four were made of non-concrete materials, he said.

No Construction Timeline

After the evaluation phase, which began at the end of November and is scheduled to take at least 30 days, the department will decide on a final design, Diaz said.

“We’re talking about engineers and scientists and border patrol agents providing their input on what works best,” he said. “Based on that, there’s going to be a recommendation in the future.”

But Congress hasn’t appropriated any funding for continuing the project next year, and there is no timeline for when the border wall might be constructed.

“Everything we do in 2018 will require an appropriation,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection Acting Deputy Commissioner Ronald Vitiello told reporters in October after the prototypes were completed. CBP requested $1.6 billion in 2018 funding for the border wall. The House passed a budget with the funding but the measure hasn’t been approved by the Senate.

Several senators, including Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, have objected to spending taxpayer money to build a wall along the border.

At Least $12 Billion

Even Trump’s DHS Secretary conceded the wall isn’t necessary for the full length of the border.

“There is no need for a wall from sea to shining sea,” DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said last month at her confirmation hearing.

In addition to funding, a wall could run into obstacles including private property rights, environmental concerns and geographical factors that could make construction difficult along several sections of the border.

Estimates of construction costs range from $12 billion to $21.6 billion, and the Mexican government has steadfastly refused to contribute to the cost.

“Our country will not pay, under any circumstances,” Mexico’s foreign ministry said in an August statement. “This statement is not part of a Mexican negotiating strategy, but rather a principle of national sovereignty and dignity.”

While Trump said repeatedly on the campaign trail that Mexico would pay for the wall, he has largely dropped that applause line since taking office.

Yet amid Republican celebrations over the tax legislation, Trump’s promises on the wall haven’t been forgotten by some of his supporters.

“Today’s BORDER WALL CONSTRUCTION UPDATE: Miles completed yesterday-Zero; Miles completed since Inauguration-- Zero,” conservative commentator Ann Coulter posted on Twitter on Dec. 18. “‘NEXT UPDATE TOMORROW.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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