Homeland Security began building a border wall in New Mexico on Monday, moving to replace vehicle barriers with a modern fence that will deter pedestrians attempting to cross in the remove desert west of El Paso.
The 20-mile project has been on the books for some time and the contract was awarded Jan. 22, meaning it was finalized before the recent fight over border wall money in the new 2018 spending bill.
But the administration says it wouldn’t have been built but for President Trump’s push for more border wall.
“We need effective barriers to deny the entry of illegal aliens and contraband,” said Aaron A. Hull, chief patrol agent for the El Paso Sector of the Border Patrol. “Our agents know that a balance of physical infrastructure, technology and personnel is key to securing the border and keeping our communities safe.”
The fence will begin just west of the Santa Teresa port of entry and run 20 miles west.
It will run between 18 and 30 feet high, and will be bollard-style construction, giving agents the ability to see through to Mexico so they have awareness of what’s going on, and can spot migrants or smugglers preparing for an attempt to jump the border. A see-thru design also helps agents spot and avoid potential ambushes by rock-throwers, which accounts for a large number of injuries to agents.
The New Mexico wall contract went to Barnard Construction, a Montana-based company. At $73 million, it works out to less than $4 million per mile of fencing — far cheaper than estimates for the rest of Mr. Trump’s wall, which is pegged at about $25 million per mile.
The area where the new fencing will be erected is currently protected by vehicle barriers, which amount to a single bar, about belt-high, held up by poles spaced several feet apart. They can hinder a car or truck barreling through the desert but do little to stop smugglers and illegal immigrants on foot.
Homeland Security officials said with Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican city of nearly 2 million people, so close to the spot, the vehicle barriers are no longer considered effective enough.
The barriers are a legacy of the Bush fence-building push of a decade ago. Originally Congress had ordered 700 miles of the border to be sealed with double-tier full-sized fencing, but the Bush administration balked and Congress backed off its demands, leaving decisions in the hands of Homeland Security.
The result was 354 miles of border protected by a pedestrian fence and 300 miles protected by vehicle barriers.
Now the Trump administration is going back to replace some of the vehicle barriers with the most up-to-date fencing.
The project will not use any of the designs Mr. Trump ordered last year.
Congress moved to block those designs from being used for building done pursuant to the 2018 spending bill. Border Patrol officials said last month they are still studying the bill to see what’s allowed.
The New Mexico project joins another wall replacement project in southern California that started last month.
Neither of those is part of the 100 miles or so of new and replacement wall Homeland Security says was approved in last month’s new spending bill.
“Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, we need a wall,” Mr. Trump said at a Cabinet meeting Monday morning. “It will stop a lot of people we don’t want coming in this country.”