Construction of Trump's Border Wall Set to Begin -- Inside a Wildlife Refuge
August 2, 2017
ProPublica and the Texas Tribune & Joe Sexton / ProPublica
America may get its border wall. It just might have to do without a lot else. US Customs and Border Protection is preparing to use its own funds to start construction on the first part of Trump's wall in November -- a 3-mile segment that will damage one of the nation''s most cherished bird-watching locales. The fiscal 2018 $2.6 billion cost for the first stage of the border wall will mean massive cuts to America's environmental, social, health, and arts programs.
Border Agency Set to Jumpstart
Trump's Wall in a Texas Wildlife Refuge
Kiah Collier, Texas Tribune, and T. Christian Miller / ProPublica and the Texas Tribune
(July 28, 2017) -- US Customs and Border Protection will begin constructing the first segment of President Trump's border wall in November through a national wildlife refuge, using money it's already received from Congress.
That's what a US Fish and Wildlife Service official recently told a nonprofit group that raises money to support two national wildlife refuges in South Texas, according to the group's vice president.
"I was alarmed," said Jim Chapman of Friends of the Wildlife Corridor. "It was not good news."
For the past six months, CBP has been quietly preparing a site to build a nearly 3-mile border barrier through the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, according toThe Texas Observer. The US Army Corps of Engineers also has reportedly begun drilling and soil testing in California and New Mexico.
But construction on the wall was not expected to begin until January because Congress has yet to approve CBP's budget. On Thursday, the House approved a spending bill that contained $1.6 billion to build segments of the wall in Texas and California. Its fate in the Senate is uncertain.
However, CBP recently told a senior Fish and Wildlife Service official in Texas that the agency would shift funds to pay for the new segment out of its current budget. The official passed on the news to Chapman's group this week.
The Fish and Wildlife Service official confirmed the remarks, but asked not to be identified for fear of losing his job.
Customs and Border Protection spokesman Carlos Diaz said it "would be premature to speak about specific locations." The only South Texas projects authorized under the current budget are the installation of 35 gates at gaps the agency left in the existing border fence, he said.
The 2,088-acre Santa Ana refuge, located along the Rio Grande south of McAllen, Texas, is considered one of the nation's top bird-watching sites, with more than 400 species of birds. The refuge is also home to two endangered wildcats -- the ocelot and jaguarundi -- and some of the last surviving stands of sabal palm trees in South Texas.
A wall cutting through the refuge could do serious environmental damage, Chapman said, undermining the reason Congress appropriated money to buy the land in the first place. But under a 2005 law, the Department of Homeland Security can waive any environmental regulations that would normally impede construction in a sensitive wildlife area.
Chapman said his group is now counting on Democrats to halt expansion of the project.
"The Democrats in Congress up to now have been very unified as far as not appropriating money for the wall," Chapman said.
Trump made construction of a border wall between the US and Mexico the signature promise of his political campaign and told supporters it would be solid concrete, 30 feet high and would stretch the length of the US-Mexico border. Trump estimated it would cost perhaps $10 billion to $12 billion -- and he vowed the Mexican government would pay the bill. Five days after his inauguration, he signed an executive order to begin the process.
Since then, the wall has faded from the headlines amid other controversies. But Trump has never ceased pursuing its construction, even as he has backed off the most bombastic of his demands.
In February, the CBP launched a bidding contest to build models for the new wall. Both solid concrete and alternative designs were allowed. The project is months behind schedule. CBP officials recently said the winners will be announced in November.
Earlier in July, Trump told reporters on Air Force One that the wall should be see-through. Border patrol agents needed to be able to spot threats on the other side and avoid any "large sacks of drugs" thrown over the top. He also said he favors a wall with solar panels to generate energy and reduce the building cost.
He also opined that only 700 to 900 miles of wall may be needed. About 650 miles of the 2,000-mile long border already has some type of physical barrier. The remaining miles will be guarded by topography, the president said.
"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," he said.
It remains far from clear, however, whether Trump will be able to achieve even his scaled-down version of the wall. The current border fence, a far more modest project built mostly under President Obama, cost between $2.8 million to $3.9 million on average per mile, according to the Government Accountability Office. CBP previously announced that the agency has $20 million on hand for the current fiscal year.
Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have balked at paying for the wall, which the Department of Homeland Security estimates would cost around $20 billion. Mexican officials have vigorously rejected any proposition of financing construction.
Trump, however, has already taken credit for beginning to fulfill his campaign promise.
"In a true sense, we've already started the wall," he told the reporters.
T. Christian Miller joined ProPublica in 2008 as a senior reporter based in Washington, D.C. He spent the previous 11 years reporting for the Los Angeles Times
The Cost of Trump's Wall
Compared to the Programs He's Proposing to Cut
Joe Sexton / ProPublica
(March 17, 2017) -- The fiscal 2018 price for President Trump's border wall is in: $2.6 billion. That's a cost to US taxpayers, not a cost many people any longer think will be picked up by the Mexican government.
As first installments go, it's a pretty big number. Indeed, its size can be appreciated in one powerful way by setting it against some of the many budget cuts Trump proposed this week.
One year of spending on a border wall is the equal of, well, the federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting plus the $231 million given to the country's libraries and museums plus the $366 million that goes to legal help for the poor.
Actually, the tab is nearly three times the cost of those combined budgets.
Care about the arts? Wondering where the next "Hamilton" might come from?
The federal government could increase the annual combined spending on the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities by 900 percent or so and still not get to the $2.6 billion.
It's worth noting the $2.6 billion will not actually go toward the big, permanent wall the president has committed to. That's forecast to be around 10 times the $2.6 billion. The $2.6 billion will go to build a bunch of smaller walls and patch holes in the assortment of fences that now exist.
All these numbers confusing you? Wish you were better at math?
The $2.6 billion is more than twice the annual costs of 21st Century Community Learning Centers created across the country to fund programs run before and after school and throughout the summer. You could actually throw in the $190 million spent on teaching students with disabilities and limited English proficiency and still not match the wall costs.
The wall, of course, is supposed to protect Americans from the cheap labor making its way illegally into the country. It might strike some as odd that, while investing in the wall, the administration has opted to disinvest in a variety of economic programs.
The Economic Development Administration's $221 million budget is wiped out in Trump's plan. Ditto the $434 million dedicated annually to job training for older low-income people. And the $119 million aimed every year at 420 economically depressed counties in Appalachia.
Had enough of this? Weary of politics and partisanship? Sick of talking about the wall? Want to get away from it all?
There are plenty of options, of course. What there won't be anymore, under the Trump budget, are the $20 million spent on National Heritage Areas or the $13.2 million spent on the National Wildlife Refuge Fund.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.