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What Trump got right and wrong about his new border barrier

After two and a half years, the U.S. border wall hasn't grown. It's just been fixed up.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump tours a section of the southern border wall on Sept. 18, 2019, in Otay Mesa, Calif.Evan Vucci / AP

President Donald Trump toured a section of newly-upgraded border barrier along the California-Mexico border on Wednesday, boasting about giving the nation the strong, impressive wall he promised during his 2016 campaign.

"For many years, people have wanted a proper wall," Trump told reporters, predicting he'd finish building 500 miles by the end of next year. "We're building it at a breakneck speed."

Trump spoke with reporters in between two sets of fencing — primary, 18-foot tall fencing and secondary 30-foot tall fencing — in Otay Mesa, California. Trump acknowledged that much of the work completed under his administration amounted to "renovation." But he also inaccurately suggested that he had built walls in certain areas where before nothing existed and changed his story about how Mexico is paying for the wall while misstating details about the new barrier itself.

“We had very low fencing, it was like a sheet metal. People would knock it over like routinely. We ripped it out. We had a lot of areas where we had that or less than that, and we had some areas where we had nothing,” he told reporters at one point.

So far under Trump, the U.S. has replaced or reinforced 66 miles of fencing, including 9 miles of new secondary fencing like the kind the president stood in front of on Wednesday. But Trump's administration has yet to extend the border wall. There are 654 miles of border wall in the U.S., according to Customs and Border Protection data, the same number of miles that existed at the start of his term.

Trump, when asked by a reporter about his 2016 campaign promise that Mexico would pay for his wall, Trump claimed Mexico was paying — with its decision to police the border with soldiers.

"Well they're paying for 27,000 soldiers. I am — we’re all thrilled. Mexico has never done anything to impede people from pouring into our country," Trump said. “But if I charged a 5 percent tariff on Mexico for six months, that would fully pay for the wall.”

Mexico deployed 15,000 soldiers to the U.S.-Mexican border this summer, not 27,000.

Speaking to reporters, Trump pointed to the interior of the steel bollard fencing, which has reinforcing bars and concrete inside, and said the walls were “wired” to detect attempts to cross. He said three countries had sent representatives to study the wall, declining to name those nations.

"It's a very powerful wall, the likes of which to this extent has not been built before," he said.

He inaccurately suggested that the kind of wall being built behind him was based on the climb-ability of the prototypes he had constructed early in his term. None of the prototypes passed CBP's operational testing and the steel bollard design has been used for years. (Lawmakers actually specifically wrote into the 2019 funding bill that new designs couldn't be used.)

After Congress refused to pony up enough money for the border wall, Trump sought out alternate funding from the Defense Department. The Pentagon said this month it would use $3.6 billion in military construction funding to build the wall, while the Defense Department also made $2.5 billions of counter-drug money available.

CBP predicted they’ll be able to build 509 total miles with this boost of funding — on top of congressional appropriations — but just 165 of that barrier will be new, primary wall and levee walls where no barrier existed before.

There are some signs that truly new border wall is in the works. Last month, CBP awarded a contract for an 11-mile section of levee wall, writing for the first time in a press release that “construction will take place in locations where no barriers currently exist.”

It just hasn't happened yet.