What’s Happened With the Donald Trump Border Wall?

What’s Happened With the
Donald Trump
Border Wall?

© David Burton 2021

Boirder Wall

     “Senate Republicans, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, accused President Joe Biden of violating federal law when he froze congressionally approved funding for border wall construction, a move they say led to a rise in illegal border crossings.
     “On Jan. 20 {2021}, in one of his first acts as president, Biden suspended construction of the wall on the U.S. border with Mexico and froze funding for one of former President Donald Trump’s major projects.
     “ ‘In the weeks that followed, operational control of our southern border was compromised and a humanitarian and national security crisis has ensued,’ according to a 10-page letter sent to the Government Accountability Office. ‘The president’s actions directly contributed to this unfortunate, yet entirely avoidable, scenario.’
     “Forty GOP senators, including former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., signed the letter. . .
      - - -
     “U.S. Custom and Border Protection reported last week that it encountered 100,441 people attempting to cross the southwest border in February, a 28% increase over the previous month. The agency reported 72,113 expulsions from the border.” (Ref. 1)

     Back in February of 2019, “President Trump declared a national emergency at the border {in order} to access billions of dollars to build a border wall that Congress refused to give him, transforming a highly charged policy dispute into a fundamental confrontation over separation of powers.”
     In declaring a national emergency to get his way over the issue of a border wall between Mexico and the United States, Trump violated one of the most sacred principles of our Constitution – that of the separation of power between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Congress had refused to give in to his bullying and childish temper tantrum. They voted to not give him the five plus billions of dollars he demanded after the Mexican president refused to give in to Trump’s stupid “promise” that he would build the wall and “Mexico would pay for it”.
     For over a century, the United States has sought to foster a “good neighbor” policy with regard to the rest of the Western hemisphere. Donald Trump immediately recast the image of the United States as the bully of Western hemisphere by telling a sovereign and friendly neighbor, Mexico, that he, Donald Trump, would force that nation to pay between $12 and $15 billion to the United States so he, Donald Trump, could build a wall to keep illegal immigrants and drug smugglers out of our country. Afterward, the Donald stepped back from his campaign pledge to force Mexico to pay $12 to $15 billion to the United States and he then made his irresponsible demand that Congress give him more than $5 billion to build his wall. After that, he signed an executive order providing $1.4 billion for border security with an announcement that he was declaring a national state of emergency in order to steal the money he wanted from other parts of the federal budget – money that Congress earmarked for other use. Trump’s declaration of a national emergency was just one of his innumerable “untruths”. There was no national emergency. There was no national crisis. We were not being attacked. There was no threat to national security.[2]

     In the final weeks of his presidency, President Donald Trump returned to that signature issue that brought him to the White House - his pledge to build “a beautiful, gorgeous, big wall” on the southern border. On two separate occasions, Trump said he was “completing the wall, like I said I would” and that it is “almost finished.”
     Yes, the Trump administration did indeed build/replace miles of border fencing - more than under any other president in American history. But by the end of Trump’s term in office, the length of fencing was well short of what Trump promised repeatedly during the campaign or what his administration initially proposed when he took office. Construction crews didn’t even come close to finishing the work that was funded.
     Most of the wall constructed was replacement for existing dilapidated or inadequate fencing, despite earlier plans to build new barriers where none existed before. In 2018, an administration official testified that his agency would build 316 miles of new pedestrian barriers “in addition to what is there now.” In actuality, only about 40 miles of such new fencing were built.
     But some border experts expressed a warning not to minimize the impact of the replacement fencing. In some cases, the new barriers erected replaced fencing made from Vietnam-era landing mats. In addition, U.S. Customs and Border Protection replaced nearly 200 miles of vehicle barriers - the type that people could walk right through - with 30-foot-high steel bollards, lighting and other technology. That’s a dramatic change.
     But whether the wall was “almost finished” is another question. Part of the difficulty of measuring that is the ambiguity around what a completed wall would look like. Trump constantly moved the goal posts on how long the wall should be, and no master plan for the project was ever publicly released.
     Those who tracked the construction closely said that fencing mostly was built where there was least resistance, where the federal government already owned the land - particularly in Arizona and New Mexico. Far less was built in areas of Texas, especially, where private landowners had fought condemnation of their land in the courts.
     What resulted, border experts say, is a patchwork of fencing. In typical Trump fashion, with no publicly shared benchmarks for “completion” of the wall, Trump unilaterally and bombastically declared near-victory without any definitive evidence to back up his assertion. “You know, we’re completing the wall, like I said I would.” “Everyone said, you would never be able to do it.” “They even want to take down the wall. … I heard him [President-elect Joe Biden] say it the other day, ‘We will take down the wall.’ We have the strongest border we’ve ever had now. We’re almost finished with the wall.”
     According to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) status report, the U.S. constructed 438 miles of “border wall system” under Trump, as of December 2020. Most of that, 365 miles of it, as we said, is replacement for primary or secondary fencing that was dilapidated or of outdated design. In addition, 40 miles of new primary wall and 33 miles of secondary wall have been built in locations where there were no barriers before.
     So the footprint of the wall was actually only 40 miles longer than it was before Trump took office! Once more, we had another example of an exaggeration or an outright lie from our former president.
     According to CBP updates, from December 2020 through February 2021, about 31 miles of new wall were constructed in areas where there was no barrier before. At that rate, and with Biden immediately putting a halt to all new wall construction, the Trump administration will have completed less than a quarter of the new miles for which it had funding - well short of the new miles of wall Trump had originally promised.
     Looking back to 2016, the Republican platform stated, “The border wall must cover the entirety of the southern border and must be sufficient to stop both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.” But that wasn’t actually what Trump talked about during the campaign. - Trump consistently talked about needing 1,000 miles of wall. “Now, it’s 2,000 miles but we need 1,000 miles of wall. Nothing. It’s nothing. I will have the most gorgeous wall you’ve ever seen. Someday, when I’m gone, they’ll name it the Trump wall.”
     But once Trump was elected, he began to move the goal posts — from 1,000 miles to 900 to 800 to 700 and even less.
     At a March 15, 2018 committee hearing, the acting deputy commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, confirmed that the CBP called for constructing 316 miles of new pedestrian fencing, “in addition to what is there now.” In other words, that was in addition to the 654 miles of existing border barriers. Again, when Donald Trump left office, only 40 miles of new fencing had been constructed where there were no barriers before.
     On top of that, it was reported that, rather than building fencing in areas identified as being of the greatest need, the Trump administration did most of the construction in areas of least resistance. Much of the construction was to replace dilapidated or inadequate fencing in New Mexico, Arizona and California, where the government owns the Roosevelt Easement, a 60-foot wide strip of land along the U.S.-Mexico border in those three states.
     Trump’s claim that the wall is “almost finished” is “absolutely not true, particularly in South Texas,” where large swaths of the borderlands are privately owned. In South Texas, “the need to acquire property on which to build the border wall has stymied construction” as landowners have tied up the government in the courts. The CBP commissioner under then-President Barack Obama has said that the issues with acquiring property from private landowners in Texas means the fence is not going up in areas where there are the most illegal border crossings.
     Trump, of course, infamously and repeatedly promised that Mexico would pay for the wall. And that hasn’t happened, despite Trump’s false claims that Mexico is paying somehow through the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement or with a border toll.
     The Trump administration secured a total of $15 billion during his presidency for wall construction. Some of it was appropriated in annual budgets by Congress, and some was diverted by Trump from counter-narcotics and military construction funding. But it has all been borne by American taxpayers.
     The figure committed to date for wall construction - $15 billion – shows that the wall Trump got is well short of what he wanted. And the Trump administration wasn’t able to spend even that much. According to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ estimates, there was about $3.3 billion in unused border barrier funding when Biden took office. By Biden immediately stopping construction, it should cost the U.S. about $700 million to terminate those contracts, saving the U.S. government about $2.6 billion.
     The Trump administration said that with the $15 billion in funding it allotted for the wall, it could build 738 miles. But the total amount of wall that the Trump administration had planned to construct was not close to being completed and will not be completed. The WALL Act of 2019 was introduced by a number of Republican senators and sought $25 billion for wall construction - an attempt to fully fund the wall. The bill never went anywhere, but is just one more indication of how far short President Trump came to fulfilling his promise to build the wall.
     The type of wall Trump promised to build also changed over time.
     During the 2016 campaign, Trump once talked about a wall made of precast concrete slabs. After he became president, Trump commissioned wall prototypes, many of them of solid concrete construction. But the new fencing being built doesn’t resemble any of the prototypes. Rather, Congress only authorized Trump to build the same see-through steel bollard fencing previously used for the wall.
     Even if Trump had reached his goal of building 450 miles of wall before his term was over, it wouldn’t be “finished,” at least not to the point CBP has indicated in previous reports is necessary to “achieve complete operational control of the southern border,” the goal outlined in Trump’s post-inaugural executive order. Nor will it be anywhere close to what Trump promised during his 2016 campaign.
     Back in August 2020, when Trump was accepting the Republican nomination, he boasted: “The wall will soon be complete, and it is working beyond our wildest expectations.” But it will be years before we are able to tell how effective even the miniscule portion of the wall built during Trump's time in office has been at stopping illegal immigration.[3]

     Another perspective on the Trump border wall came from a magazine writer. He was driving in the Lancashire countryside with an English friend of his a couple of years ago when he spotted what looked to be a crumbling tower on a hilltop.

     “ ‘What’s that?’ he asked. ‘Some kind of Roman ruins?’
     “ ‘No,’ the friend laughed. ‘That’s a folly. Haven’t you heard of a folly?’
     “{The writer} knew the word, of course, but never in this context. Apparently, British aristocracy had old-looking structures constructed on their lands to make it seem like they owned something interesting or historic, when they really didn’t.
     “The word ‘folly’ comes to mind when considering the border wall constructed in the Southwest United States {during Donald Trump’s time in office}.
     “Was it a folly, or did {Trump} leave behind something useful for national security? It’s an important question because some $922 million was taken from the Defense Department’s infrastructure budget to construct some 450 miles of border barriers - most of it reportedly 30-foot-tall steel fencing replacing older infrastructure.
     “. . . in a column written shortly before President Donald Trump was sworn in, {the writer} predicted that the border wall as {Trump} described it in his campaign would never be built, even if he served two terms. It’s fair to look back at that column and determine what {the writer} got right and what {he} got wrong.
     “First of all, {let’s} put aside the discussion on whether there should be a wall or fencing at all. It’s every sovereign nation’s right to determine whom it lets pass through its border and what kind of infrastructure it wants to build there. That’s not the debate.
     “The thinking behind the column {written} four years ago was based on three investigative trips to the Southwest border, extensive reporting on the George W. Bush administration’s Secure Border Initiative and years of covering the Department of Homeland Security and Defense Department’s cumbersome acquisition systems.
     “{The writer’s} thesis was that it would take the slow acquisition system years to determine the right technology for the border and to choose a contractor, thus eating up time before construction kicked off.
     “It’s obvious that prediction was off base as a whopping 450 miles of new or replacement fencing was completed before the Biden administration called a halt to the project in January {of 2021}. On its face, that’s an impressive number.
     “We now know that the Trump administration simply ignored the traditional acquisition system, ran roughshod over federal environmental regulations and paid for the project by raiding the Defense Department’s infrastructure accounts.
     “According to documents acquired by McClatchy News Service, the {Trump} administration requested $3.6 billion in Defense Department funds, but spent only $922 million.
     “That’s still a lot of money. What happened over the past four years should be put aside and the question should now be, ‘We have 450 miles of new barriers — now what?’
     “Is the new infrastructure effective? There needs to be a serious, bipartisan, unemotional and unflinching study on what exactly U.S. taxpayers received for their money.
     “Keep in mind that no wall has ever been built that human ingenuity hasn’t been able to defeat. That was a lesson {that was} learned visiting the Checkpoint Charlie Museum in West Berlin back in 1985 - the bad old days when the Berlin Wall still stood and attempting to cross it could result in death. The museum was full of displays showing the numerous clever ways freedom-seeking East Germans defeated the most heavily armed border structure ever built.
     “If the new fence can’t be 100 percent effective, what is an acceptable number to measure success?
     “Border Patrol agents . . . in the 2000s always described fencing, car barriers and cameras as something tactical. None of them ever said the infrastructure could stop every would-be migrant. Fences slowed down border crossers, making it easier to catch them.
     “Meanwhile, the Trump administration seemed to want a ‘strategic’ wall - something that would keep out migrants seeking work, leaving more jobs for Americans, along with criminal aliens, rendering America as a whole, safer.
     “The {proposed} study should determine if the new barriers are tactically useful for Border Patrol agents, and if so, where? Any investigation should start by asking {the Border Patrol} agents who know the lay of the land better than any bureaucrat.
     “The ‘where’ question is important because DHS officials in the past have said there didn’t need to be a border wall stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean - as Trump envisioned - because nature and topography often provided the needed barriers.
     “As the Bush administration discovered during the Secure Border Initiative, building fences is expensive, but maintenance costs are forever.
     “The forces of nature - wind, extreme heat, extreme cold and gravity - are already wearing on the ‘Trump Wall.’ Drug smugglers and would-be migrants are looking for structural weaknesses to exploit and creating holes that need to be repaired.
     “A study should determine what parts of the wall are worth maintaining and estimate how much this will cost. If there’s no upkeep, then the fencing will begin to deteriorate and it will truly end up as a folly.
     “The story of the Trump Wall did not end with the stroke of President Joe Biden’s pen. The next administration could restart construction, or Congress could mandate it. But before that happens, taxpayers should know if they are receiving any value for their money.” (Ref. 4)

     Many countries maintain border walls or fences, including Israel, the UK (Northern Ireland), Spain, Greece, Hungary, and India. So America’s attempt at securing its southern border with a wall is not new or unique. Israel’s security wall has proven to be fairly successful, significantly reducing, but not totally eliminating the acts of terror being committed against it. The Trump Wall does not appear to be that effective. Judging by the results obtained in the first quarter of 2021, the start of the Biden administration, America is not receiving much value for the money already spent on the southwest border wall as the number of attempts at illegal immigration has spiked. America may well ask itself, “Has the Trump Border Wall in any way contributed to reducing the number of illegal immigrants actually making it into the U.S.?”

     “In 2006, Congress required that a barrier {along our southwest border} be constructed. But the project was never completed as mandated, and much of the border wall/fence lies in disrepair or is built to subpar standards. With illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and human smuggling reaching historic levels, an ongoing problem, and the threat of terrorism ever increasing, it is critical that a proper security barrier be constructed.
     “A physical barrier on the southern border is a necessity if our government wishes to meet its obligation to protect the sovereignty and security of the United States of America. Besides helping stem the tide of illegal immigration, it also limits the ability of drug cartels, human traffickers, terrorists, and other national security threats to access the United States from Mexico and the rest of Central and South America. Furthermore, a secure border sends the message that prospective immigrants are expected to follow the rule of law.” (Ref. 5) Does the Trump Wall contribute to this objective? And, if so, to what degree, and at what cost?


  1. Mitt Romney, GOP senators say Biden’s freeze on border wall funds violates federal law, Dennis Romboy,
    Deseret News, 17 March 2021.
  2. It’s time – Dump Trump!, David Burton, Son of Eliyahu: Article 349, 15 February 2019.
  3. Trump’s Border Wall: Where Does It Stand?, Robert Farley, FactCheck.org, 16 February 2021.
  4. So We Have a Border Wall — Now What?, Stew Magnuson, National Defense: Page 6, April 2021.
  5. The Current State of the Border Fence, FAIR, May 2019.

  13 May 2021 {Article 474; Politics_68}    
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