What's up with Trump's border wall? Prototypes are ready to test, but it's a bit more complicated in Texas

Prototypes for U.S. President Donald Trump’s border wall are ready for testing in San Diego, but in Texas, a status report on it is somewhat more complicated, the CBC's Paul Hunter writes.

Americans opposed to it are entrenched, but others argue there's a need

Eight prototypes for the border wall have been set up in San Diego and are awaiting tests to determine how easily they could be tunnelled under, climbed over or chiselled through. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

Want a status report on Donald Trump's border wall?

The short answer is in San Diego where there's now a row of eight nine-metre tall concrete and steel monoliths — wall prototypes — set into the soil just steps from the U.S.-Mexican border.

Each awaits testing and, ultimately, official word on which style could one day become the president's "big, beautiful wall."

The prototypes for the border wall are a mix of concrete and steel construction. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

That is, if it ever actually comes to pass.

Trump's key campaign pledge was a big factor in his winning the White House but a year later those prototypes in San Diego are as far as it's gone.

Border agents pull tires along the border in San Diego to smooth out the ground so they can spot new footprints of illegal migrants jumping the fence. (Jason Burles/CBC)

Meanwhile, Americans who oppose the wall are entrenching.

And in Texas, the state with the longest Mexican borderline, a status report on Trump's wall is somewhat more complicated.

'Over my dead body'

At the ranch of Bill Addington, east of El Paso, building a wall "will come over my dead body," he says.

Addington's property is an hour's drive down a dirt road straight south from the state's southern-most highway. The Mexican border is then about an hour's hike through scrub and swampland past the end of that dirt road.

Rancher Bill Addington takes in the view on his land beside the Rio Grande near Sierra Blanca, Texas, where Trump’s proposed wall would cut off his access to the river and require his land to be confiscated. (Jason Burles/CBC)

His family has ranched there for generations and Addington underlines he doesn't want a wall, doesn't need a wall and will fight a wall if the government ever tries to build one through his land.

Addington has friends on the Mexican side and says no one over there has ever bothered him.

"It really does break my heart in that Americans have come so far as to be so much in fear of some of them and hate against people that have been our neighbours here."

It's a feeling echoed in El Paso, a busy border city with a vibrant and centuries-old Hispanic population.

El Paso is one of many locations along the border where there is already a fence in place, put there during the George W. Bush presidency. While not as imposing as those prototypes in San Diego, for many it has become a symbol of intolerance.

A Mexican child peers through the border fence near El Paso, Texas. President George W. Bush erected more than 1,100 kilometres of fencing along the border in 2007 to beef up border security. (Jason Burles/CBC)

At a section of fencing just outside town, a U.S. border patrol helicopter buzzed overhead as human rights activist Fernando Garcia chatted with a group of Mexican children squeezing their faces into slats in the barrier, peering into the U.S.

'The essence of these walls'

"When Trump leaves office, we're going to tear down this wall," they said, in Spanish. "And people will be able to go across." 

Garcia shrugged as he listened.

Human rights activist Fernando Garcia says a wall might appease some voters, but he expects there will also be a political backlash from the growing Hispanic population in Texas. (Jason Burles/CBC)

Emphasizing that the smuggling of drugs and other contraband happens mostly at regular border crossings, Garcia reinforced Addington's opinion on what's really driving Trump's wall.

"We're talking about hate," he said.  "Race and xenophobia. That's what is the essence of these walls."

Garcia warns that as the Hispanic population in Texas grows, as it is quickly doing, so will its political clout. He said Trump's wall may appease some voters but "I don't have any doubt that Latinos are going to be more active politically."

"I do believe there's going to be a major backlash here, a political backlash."

Then there's the matter of geography.

Along with the all-but-impassable terrain at Addington's ranch, the border is rife with long stretches of cliffs and deep valleys.

Walk right through

Many have argued that for the billions of dollars the wall would cost, there'd often be no gain from it.

In fact, the fencing erected in the Bush years is typically only in locations deemed likely to face illegal crossings.

One result is that in such places, that fencing often comes to an abrupt end and can be walked around or through. It also rarely sits precisely on the border, instead being simply put near it. 

In many places, the existing border fence near Brownsville, Texas, cuts into farmland, forcing farmers to cross gaps to tend to their property. (Jason Burles/CBC)

It cuts through private property, with gaps left in it to allow farmers easy access to their own land.

Border patrol agents keep careful watch aided by security cameras but such gaps can seem bizarre. It's a wall through which seemingly anyone can cross.

At Eagle Pass, Texas, a section of the Bush wall sits far enough north of the border that it's left a local golf course on the American side of the border but on the Mexican side of the fence.

And it's here you'll find Americans who want — and are still waiting for — a wall that runs solidly coast to coast.

Who's in the country?

While lining up a putt, Jere Rhodes said a key issue with those who come in illegally is that the U.S. then has no idea who's in the country.

Border agents patrol the Rio Grande at Roma, Texas, in air boats looking for people seeking refuge in the U.S. who swim across the river and hide in reeds along the riverbed. (Paul Hunter/CBC)

"They could be a murderer, a drug dealer, a kidnapper. They could be anything," he said. 

"I mean it's just stupid not to know who's coming across the border. It's stupid. You're a stupid country if you let that happen."

Border patrol agents found two migrants in the thick reeds along the Rio Grande riverbed at Roma. (Jason Burles/CBC)

Indeed, at Roma, Texas, where a narrow stretch of the Rio Grande River marks the border and where there is no wall of any kind, border patrol agents catch and detain people crossing illegally daily.

Even as CBC News happened to be watching, the agents found two men hiding amid thick reeds at the river's edge. They were the 11th and 12th found there just that morning, in their own way helping make the case for Trump's wall in a state — and country — divided on it. 


Paul Hunter

Foreign correspondent

Paul Hunter is a correspondent for CBC News in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, he was a political correspondent for The National in Ottawa. In his more than two decades with the CBC, he has reported from across Canada and more than a dozen countries, including Haiti, Japan and Afghanistan.


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