Here’s What We Know About Trump’s Mexico Wall

Published: February 13, 2017 |  Last updated: December 11, 2017

President Donald Trump has directed the Department of Homeland Security to carry out one of his more prominent campaign promises: to build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. In October, signs of progress emerged—a handful of 30-foot-tall prototypes at a construction site near San Diego. But large questions still loom, like how much the wall will cost and who pays for it. Based on what we know so far, here are answers about how the project could move forward.

Most likely, since previous border projects have also used eminent domain.

Two-thirds of the land along the border is private or state-owned. And most of that land is in Texas, where much of the border does not already have fencing. The Trump administration would probably need to use eminent domain to acquire the remaining land needed to complete a border wall.

In November, the Texas Observer published documents from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers that showed “where the administration expects to build 33 miles of wall in 15 different segments.” According to the report, the government has created a rating system to determine the difficulty of building each segment. One part of the rating weighs the legal difficulty of taking over the land via eminent domain.

The U.S. government has used eminent domain to acquire land for existing sections of the border fence, and legal precedent is on Trump’s side. In 2005, the Supreme Court ruled, in Kelo v. The City of New London, that local governments may force property owners to sell out and make way for private economic development when officials decide it would benefit the public.

Most Existing Barriers Were Built on Federal Land
Trumps Wall With Mexico: Would Mexico pay for a wall? Trumps Wall With Mexico: Would Mexico pay for a wall?
Sources: Center for Investigative Reporting, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, OpenStreetMap, Government Accountability Office, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey

Still, attempts to acquire land would certainly face challenges in court. Historically, wall-related land cases have taken years to resolve, with costly settlements often resulting. An Associated Press review of border-related eminent domain cases in 2012 found that the U.S. government spent approximately $15 million to acquire 300 properties along the border in Texas. Property owners, whose land would be caught between the wall and the Mexico border, are likely to file claims of lost property value, which could slow down any construction on a wall.

Already, environmental activists have sued the Department of Homeland Security to stop the project, citing potential threats to endangered species including the Quino checkerspot butterfly and the Mexican flannel bush. A hearing is set for February before U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel. During the 2016 campaign, Trump attacked the judge as being biased against him because of his Mexican heritage.

The border is almost 2,000 miles long, two-thirds of which tracks the Rio Grande River.

Land along the border cuts through cities, including San Ysidro, California, and El Paso, Texas, as well as rural farmland, desert, arroyos, craggy mountains and wildlife reserves. The border features an array of existing fencing, more than 30 border patrol stations and 25 legal ports of entry.

Trumps Wall With Mexico: What does the U.S.-Mexico border look like right now? Trumps Wall With Mexico: What does the U.S.-Mexico border look like right now?

Barriers span 653 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, mostly along the western half.

Much of the southern borders of California, Arizona and New Mexico have existing barriers, ranging from 18-foot-tall iron fencing and corrugated metal to makeshift vehicle barriers and barbed wire.

Existing Barriers Along Southwest Border
Trumps Wall With Mexico: Where are border barriers already in place? Trumps Wall With Mexico: Where are border barriers already in place?
Sources: Center for Investigative Reporting, U.S. Customs and Border Protection

It’s hard to say. There were 303,916 border apprehensions in the southwest U.S. during fiscal 2017—a 26 percent drop from 2016. A large number of those apprehensions were people presenting themselves to border agents and seeking asylum.

That’s according to U.S. Border Patrol figures, and it also includes people who were caught multiple times. Apprehensions plummeted following the November election, and migration policy experts cited strong enforcement rhetoric from the Trump administration as the primary cause. In recent months, apprehensions have risen to more typical levels.

It’s less clear how many successfully cross the border. Customs & Border Patrol tries to estimate the total based on surveillance footage, evidence of movement (e.g., footprints, overturned rocks, litter) and reports from local residents. In fiscal year 2015, Border Patrol claimed an 81 percent success rate in apprehending or turning back people who attempted to cross illegally.

Apprehensions Have Plummeted Since 2000
Trumps Wall With Mexico: How many people cross illegally into the U.S. from Mexico? Trumps Wall With Mexico: How many people cross illegally into the U.S. from Mexico?
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Outside estimates are less rosy. In a 2013 report, the Council on Foreign Relations estimated that Border Patrol’s success rate was in the 40 percent to 55 percent range. The Institute for Defense Analyses, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group that works solely for U.S. government agencies, estimates that about 200,000 people made it across in 2015—down from an estimated 2 million entries in 2000.

Nearly half of all border apprehensions occur near the southernmost tip of Texas.

The area, known as the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector, accounted for 45 percent of all apprehensions in fiscal 2017. From 1998 to 2012, most apprehensions occurred near Tucson, Arizona. Much of Arizona’s southern border is now fenced off. That has significantly reduced crossings there but led to increased crossings further east, in Texas.

Apprehensions At U.S. Border Patrol Sectors in Fiscal 2017
Trumps Wall With Mexico: Where are people crossing illegally into the U.S.? Trumps Wall With Mexico: Where are people crossing illegally into the U.S.?
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Most of the existing border fence was built after 2006, under President George W. Bush.

Federally funded construction began in the 1990s, when 14 miles of fencing was built along the California border during the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations. The barriers targeted border crossers between Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego.

In 2006, George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, which ultimately led to construction of 653 miles of reinforced fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. The Department of Homeland Security had finished most of the fencing by the time President Barack Obama took office in 2009, but the agency still has 47 miles of authorized, unfinished fencing to be constructed.

Trump has cited the Secure Fence Act as the legal authority to restart the work on border barriers. According to the Texas Observer, the Trump administration has already begun preparing portions of federally-owned land in South Texas for border construction. The story cited a federal official who said construction could begin as early as January 2018.

Trump’s Wall Would Expand on Existing Border Fencing
Trumps Wall With Mexico: Who put up the current border barriers? Trumps Wall With Mexico: Who put up the current border barriers?
Source: Department of Homeland Security

U.S. Customs and Border Protection is soliciting proposals for a wall that is at least 18 feet tall, aesthetically pleasing on the U.S.-facing side and able to repel attempts to climb over the top or tunnel underneath.

In early 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection began soliciting bids for two types of border wall proposals. The first called for a reinforced concrete design at least 18 feet tall, aesthetically pleasing on the U.S.-facing side and able to repel attempts to climb over the top or tunnel underneath. The second proposal requested a wall constructed from materials other than concrete, but with otherwise similar requirements.

Both bids required the wall to prevent someone from creating a 12-inch hole in an hour using a “sledgehammer, car jack, pick axe, chisel, battery operated impact tools, battery operated cutting tools, Oxy/acetylene torch or other similar hand-held tools.” Proposals should also be designed to prevent tunneling up to 6 feet below the base of the wall.

In July, Trump told reporters he wanted the wall to be “see through."

“One of the things with the wall is you need transparency. You have to be able to see through it. As horrible as it sounds, when they throw the large sacks of drugs over, and if you have people on the other side of the wall, you don’t see them—they hit you on the head with 60 pounds of stuff? It’s over.”

Two of the current prototypes contain slatted steel bars that could provide limited visibility across the border.

Trump also told reporters he was seriously considering covering the wall with solar technology. However, none of the eight border wall prototypes have included solar panels.

In October, eight prototypes were built near the Mexican border

Half of the prototypes were primarily concrete structures, with two others being hybrid designs of concrete, metal bars and steel plating. Two more prototypes were constructed primarily from metal. Later this year, the federal government will test the eight prototypes for durability and to see how well they withstand penetration.

Here are the prototypes:

ELTA North America Inc.
Based out of Annapolis Junction, Maryland. $406,319 contract

ELTA is an Israeli-owned defense manufacturer owned by state-run Israel Aerospace Industries. The company manfacturers radar and anti-drone technology and has also worked on Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system. Their prototype consists of a concrete base topped by metal plates and a rounded tube meant to make climbing more difficult.

Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like? Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like?
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
KWR Construction Inc.
Based out of Sierra Vista, Arizona. $486,411 contract

The hispanic-owned company has previously done maintenance and repair work for the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense and the Interior. The company’s main offices are located about 15 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. Their prototype consists of metal columns, spaced apart to allow border agents to see through, and is topped by metal plates and a rounded tube.

Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like? Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like?
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
Caddell Construction Co.
Based out of Montgomery, Alabama. $344,000 contract for a concrete wall, $320,000 for an additional wall

Caddell provides construction services for projects in federal, commercial and industrial sectors worldwide. Projects for the U.S. government include military barracks, foreign embassies and federal prisons. It's concrete prototype is thick at the bottom and narrows toward its pointed top. A second protoype is constructed from metal poles, spaced to allow visibility, metal plates in the middle, and concrete blocks at the top.

Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like? Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like? Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like? Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like?
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co.
Based out of Philadelphia, Mississippi. $453,548 contract for a concrete wall, $458,103 for an additional wall

Incorporated in 1964, the construction and building services company has worked on numerous projects for federal and local governments, including court houses, county jails, immigrant detention centers and military barracks. Their concrete prototype has a simple, plain face with a rounded metal pipe. A second prototype replaces the concrete with corrugated metal.

Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like? Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like? Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like? Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like?
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
Fisher Sand & Gravel Co.
Based out of Tempe, Arizona. $365,000 contract

The parent company to North Dakota-based Fisher Industries, Fisher Sand & Gravel specializes in portable rock crushing and asphalt and concrete recycling plants. The company has also built roads, dams and large public works projects. This simple, concrete prototype was the only one built entirely on site. It gradually narrows toward the top.

Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like? Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like?
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg
Texas Sterling Construction Co.
Based out of Houston, Texas. $470,000 contract

Founded in 1955 in Sterling Heights, Michigan, the company specializes in transportation projects, including highways, bridges, ports, light rail, wastewater and storm drainage systems. The U.S.-facing side of this concrete prototype is stamped to resemble brick. A metal plate, covered with spikes, tops the protype to prevent climbing.

Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like? Trumps Wall With Mexico: What will Trump’s wall look like?
Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

The wall will most likely cover 700 to 900 miles, with additional tech-based solutions for non-walled stretches.

The length of the wall itself has been the subject of mixed messages from the Trump administration. In March, Customs and Border Protection told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that 1,827 miles of the border could contain a physical barrier. This would cover the extent of the currently un-walled portion of the U.S.-Mexico border.

In April, then Homeland Security Secretary Director John Kelly told a Senate committee that “it is unlikely that we will build a physical wall from sea to shining sea.” Kelly told the committee that sensors, drones and other technology could substitute for a physical wall along certain sections of the border. Kelly currently serves as President Trump’s Chief of Staff.

In July, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One, “It’s a 2,000-mile border, but you don’t need 2,000 miles of wall because you have a lot of natural barriers. You have mountains. You have some rivers that are violent and vicious. You have some areas that are so far away that you don’t really have people crossing.”

Polls suggest that most Americans don’t support building a border wall.

Sixty percent of Americans oppose building a wall along the border with Mexico, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted Sept. 21 to 26, while 37 percent support it. Opposition to the wall was up 5 percentage points since the election. Support varied greatly by party, with 77 percent of Republicans, 33 percent of Independents and only 7 percent of Democrats in favor of construction.

Results from the Quinnipiac poll were similar to others. A CBS News poll conducted in August found 61 percent of registered voters opposed building a border wall. A July poll from conservative-leaning Rasmussen Reports found 56 percent of likely voters opposed a border wall.

Do you favor or oppose building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to try to stop illegal immigration?
What will Trump’s wall look like? What will Trump’s wall look like?
Source: Quinnipiac University Poll. Survey conducted September 21 - 26, 2017 of 1,412 voters nationwide. Margin of error +/- 3.1 percentage points.

Construction can begin immediately, but Congress would need to approve most of the funding.

Shortly after taking office, Trump signed an executive order requiring the Department of Homeland Security to “immediately plan, design, and construct a physical wall along the southern border.” Trump’s team believes the Secure Fence Act of 2006 grants him permission to begin constructing a border wall, and he has directed the DHS to use already available federal funding to start the process.

That law permits the DHS to “take all actions the secretary determines necessary and appropriate to achieve and maintain operational control over the entire international land and maritime borders of the United States.” It also included approval for “physical infrastructure enhancements,” such as the wall Trump has proposed.

But Trump will need Congressional approval for the billions it will take to build a wall. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have publicly stated they support providing funding to build a wall. However, Democrats in the Senate are likely to complicate any efforts that would send a bill to President Trump.

Trump has been asking Congress since March to add $33 billion in new defense and border security funds to a spending bill, including $1.6 billion specifically for the wall. He announced at a rally on Tuesday, "if we have to close down our government, we're building that wall." But congressional Republicans haven't shown much appetite for spending billions more on a border barrier.

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 Had Bipartisan Support
Trumps Wall With Mexico: How long would the wall be? Trumps Wall With Mexico: How long would the wall be?
Source: www.govtrack.us

Estimates range from $8 billion to $67 billion, depending on whom you ask.

Trump estimates that the wall can be built for a figure ranging from $8 billion to $12 billion, and his first budget requests up to $2.6 billion in fiscal 2018 toward planning, designing and building it. Congressional Republicans said they expect it would cost from $12 billion to $15 billion, based on what it cost to build existing border fencing. According to Reuters, an internal Department of Homeland Security report said the wall could cost up to $21.6 billion.

Independent estimates have been much higher. A study published in the MIT Technology Review said a 1,000-mile wall would cost from $27 billion to $40 billion. The study estimated $8.7 billion for concrete, $4.6 billion for steel and labor costs at $14 billion to $27 billion. Separately, Bernstein Research calculated $15 billion to $25 billion for labor, land acquisition and construction costs.

In a March presentation to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, officials from Customs and Border Patrol indicated that Trump’s FY 2018 budget would request approximately $2.6 billion to construct fewer than 75 miles of new border wall, according to a release from U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill’s office. The release said that “if the per-mile costs in the 2018 budget request are extrapolated, the barrier often described by the President would come in at a cost of $66.9 billion.”

In 2017, Congress set aside $20 million for DHS to use to build prototypes, but it has not appropriated any other money for the wall. As of October, DHS has awarded about $3.3 million to private contractors to build eight segments of prototype wall.

Estimated Costs on Trump’s Wall Plan Vary Wildly
Trumps Wall With Mexico: Do Americans want to build a wall? Trumps Wall With Mexico: Do Americans want to build a wall?
Source: Bloomberg reporting

It's unlikely Mexico will directly pay for a wall, as Trump insisted during the 2016 campaign.

During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump ran on a repeated promise that Mexico would cover any construction costs associated with a border wall. It’s a sentiment Trump has renewed as recently as Aug. 28, when he told reporters “We may fund it through the United States, but ultimately Mexico will pay for the wall.”

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has been emphatic in refusing to fund Trump’s wall. This goes against Trump’s campaign promise that Mexico will pay for the project, but since winning the election, Trump has suggested that the U.S. can recoup wall expenses from Mexico via alternative methods.

Trumps Wall With Mexico: Does a wall need Congressional approval? Trumps Wall With Mexico: Does a wall need Congressional approval?

Most American's don't think Mexico will cover the costs either, according to a CBS News poll conducted in early August. The poll asked American adults who they thought would pay for a wall if it was built—85 percent of respondents thought the U.S. would cover the costs, including 74 percent of Republicans.

U.S. taxpayers would likely pay for any construction costs, with GOP leadership saying they would seek to recoup costs from Mexico.

Trump’s first full-year budget, released in May, requested up to $2.6 billion in fiscal 2018 toward planning, designing and building a border wall, and an additional $314 million toward 500 new Border Patrol agents and 1,000 new Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. But Congress has yet vote on any major funding bills for the wall, including a $10 billion border wall bill that is currently stalled in the U.S. House.

And while the U.S. can’t legally force Mexico to pay for U.S. infrastructure, Trump and GOP leaders have suggested that there are other means of recouping construction costs from Mexico. In a January interview, House Speaker Ryan said: “We’re going to pay for it and front the money” and “There are a lot of different ways of getting Mexico to contribute to doing this.”

Trump has also floated the idea of invoking the Patriot Act to cut off remittance payments to Mexico from Mexican immigrants living in the U.S. Mexicans sent home $25.7 billion in remittances in 2016, according to the Banco de Mexico. That's more than 95 percent of all remittances received by Mexico last year. Trump’s proposal would increase the requirements needed to wire money to a foreign nation, making it difficult for immigrants to send money home without documentation proving their legal status.

A “Buffet of Options”
Trumps Wall With Mexico: How much would it cost to build Trump’s wall? Trumps Wall With Mexico: How much would it cost to build Trump’s wall?
Source: Bloomberg reporting

But Trump’s proposal has drawn skepticism from legal experts. A report from K&L Gates, an international law firm, said Trump’s plan raises constitutional questions and puts a significant burden on financial institutions. Stuart Anderson, the executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, said Trump’s interpretation of the Patriot Act is too broad, and he anticipates that the proposal would be challenged in court.

Trump has also suggested that covering a border wall with solar panels could help cover construction costs. At a June campaign rally in Iowa, Trump told reporters, “We’re thinking about building the wall as a solar wall, so it creates energy, and pays for itself. And this way Mexico will have to pay much less money, and that’s good.”

However, none of the eight border wall prototypes constructed in southern California have included solar panels.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has picked six companies to construct prototypes, but a final bid process will occur later.

Companies looking to build the wall were given until April 4 to submit a 10-page proposal for the project. More than 200 bids were submitted to the Department of Homeland Security over the summer, according to the agency. Roughly 20 companies were then selected to submit a more detailed plan. Of those, six companies were chosen to construct prototypes near the Mexico border in Southern California

In October, the companies constructed a combined eight prototypes, which will go through a testing process sometime in late 2017. It’s unlikely that just one company will be chosen to complete future wall construction. Once the testing is over, CBP will review the prototypes and choose elements that would work best for a final design. The six companies that made prototypes aren't guaranteed to make the final version of the wall. Instead, a second bidding process will occur, but DHS officials haven’t set a date for that process.

The Six Companies Chosen to Build Prototypes Are:

• LTA North America Inc., Annapolis Junction, Maryland

• KWR Construction Inc., Sierra Vista, Arizona

• Caddell Construction Co., Montgomery, Alabama

• W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co., Philadelphia, Mississippi

• Fisher Sand & Gravel Co., Tempe, Arizona

• Texas Sterling Construction Co., Houston, Texas

While more than 700 companies have registered interest in working on the wall, others have steered clear of the project. Mexican cement giant CEMEX, which has production facilities along both sides of the border, said on March 16 that it would not supply cement for the project after it had come under intense pressure from some in Mexico to boycott the project.

Estimates have ranged from the low thousands to tens of thousands.

Workers would be needed not just to assemble the wall itself but to bring supplies to the border; in some cases, they would even build roads to access remote areas where the wall would be located. However, finding workers for those jobs won’t be easy. Construction agencies in the area regularly struggle to find skilled laborers. And according to the Washington Post, some construction company owners have said they expect some of their workforce to quit rather than help build the wall.

Several years, at best.

Securing funding for the entire project and acquiring land on which the wall would be built could cause significant delays. The bulk of the existing 653 miles of fencing took about three years to erect, but some of the more difficult terrain increased that timeline. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has said the project will be “well under way within two years.” According to Reuters, an internal Department of Homeland Security report suggested the project could be finished by the end of 2020.

The Trump administration has begun early steps towards building a wall. Construction of eight prototypes was completed in October, and durability and penetration testing will begin on the segments sometime in late 2017. But the future timetable for the project will largely be dictated by Trump’s ability to secure funding from Congress, which could significantly delay next steps.

Border apprehensions tend to decrease in areas after barriers have been constructed, though other factors likely contribute.

There was a significant drop in apprehensions after fencing was built near San Diego in the early 1990s. The drop there was followed by a spike in apprehensions to the east, near Tucson, Arizona, where the border was less fortified. When fencing was extended across much of the Arizona border, apprehensions fell there, too. Now apprehensions are highest in the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector in southern Texas. Much of Texas lacks fencing, though there is some in the Rio Grande Valley.

Where People Are Apprehended Evolves Over Time
Trumps Wall With Mexico: Would a wall be effective Trumps Wall With Mexico: Would a wall be effective
Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

While fencing certainly contributed to fewer apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border, it is likely that several factors led to the drop. New border fencing often coincided with an increase in border patrol agents in the area. Apprehensions fell by half after the recession that ran from 2007 to 2009, when fewer economic opportunities in the U.S. may have deterred would-be migrants.

It's clear that reinforcement is not without limitations. Border agents told the New York Times that they found at least one tunnel a month from 2007 to 2010 as more fencing went up. Also, a wall wouldn't deter asylum seekers, who present themselves to border agents at legal ports of entry and currently make up a large number of those apprehended at the border. Nor would it stop immigrants who fly into the country and overstay legal visas. The Department of Homeland Security said almost 530,000 people overstayed in fiscal 2015, about 200,000 more than were apprehended at the border that same year.

In January, President Trump pointed to Israel's wall as a successful model, telling Fox News, “They were having a total disaster coming across, and they had a wall. It's 99.9 percent stoppage.”

A public rift between Trump and Peña Nieto could have larger implications for U.S.-Mexico trade.

Trump has insisted throughout his campaign and presidency that Mexico will pay for the wall. Peña Nieto has insisted his country will not, and he canceled his first visit to Trump’s White House after a Twitter standoff on the issue.

The tension has led to further talk of reworking or scrapping the North American Free Trade Agreement, a deal that currently allows $584 billion worth of goods to cross the borders tariff-free each year. Exports to the U.S. accounted for 26 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product in 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, and remittances from Mexicans living in the U.S. totaled an additional 2 percent that year. Disruption in trade and remittances could be painful for Mexico’s economy.

In light of the weakening relationship, Mexico has said it’s seeking to diversify trade, which could leave an opening for China to gain further influence in the region.

Trumps Wall With Mexico: How long would it take to build a wall? Trumps Wall With Mexico: How long would it take to build a wall?

Correction: This answer was updated on Feb. 13 to correct Mexican exports to the U.S. as a percentage of Mexico's GDP.