Mexico–United States barrier

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Border fence near El Paso, Texas
Border fence between San Diego's border patrol offices in California (left) and Tijuana, Mexico (right)

The Mexico–United States barrier (Spanish: barrera México–Estados Unidos) is a series of walls and fences along the Mexico–United States border aimed at preventing illegal crossings from Mexico into the United States.[1] The barrier is not one contiguous structure, but a grouping of relatively short physical walls, secured in between with a "virtual fence" which includes a system of sensors and cameras monitored by the United States Border Patrol.[2] As of January 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that it had more than 580 miles (930 km) of barriers in place.[3] The total length of the continental border is 1,989 miles (3,201 km).


Two men scale the border fence into Mexico near Douglas, Arizona, in 2009
Two men scale the border fence into Mexico near Douglas, Arizona, in 2009

The barriers were built from 1994 as part of three larger "operations" to taper transportation of illegal drugs manufactured in Latin America and immigration: Operation Gatekeeper in California, Operation Hold-the-Line[4] in Texas, and Operation Safeguard[5] in Arizona.

97% of border apprehensions (foreign nationals who are caught being in the U.S. illegally) by the Border Patrol in 2010 occurred at the southwest border. The number of Border Patrol apprehensions declined 61% from 1,189,000 in 2005 to 723,840 in 2008 to 463,000 in 2010. The decrease in apprehensions may be due to a number of factors including, changes in U.S. economic conditions and border enforcement efforts. Border apprehensions in 2010 were at their lowest level since 1972.[6] In December 2016 apprehensions were at 58,478, whereas in March 2017, there were 17,000 apprehensions, which was the fifth month in a row of decline.[7]

The 1,954-mile (3,145 km) border between the United States and Mexico traverses a variety of terrains, including urban areas and deserts. The barrier is located on both urban and uninhabited sections of the border, areas where the most concentrated numbers of illegal crossings and drug trafficking have been observed in the past. These urban areas include San Diego, California and El Paso, Texas. As of August 29, 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had built 190 miles (310 km) of pedestrian border fence and 154.3 miles (248.3 km) of vehicle border fence, for a total of 344.3 miles (554.1 km) of fence. The completed fence is mainly in New Mexico, Arizona, and California, with construction underway in Texas.[8]

U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported that it had more than 580 miles (930 km) of fence in place by the second week of January 2009.[3] Work is still under way on fence segments in Texas and on the Border Infrastructure System in California.[citation needed]

As a result of the effect of the barrier, there has been a marked increase in the number of people trying to illegally cross areas which have no fence such as the Sonoran Desert and the Baboquivari Mountain in Arizona.[9] Such illegal immigrants must cross 50 miles (80 km) of inhospitable terrain to reach the first road, which is located in the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation.[9][10]


Aerial view of El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua; the border can clearly be seen as it divides the two cities at night
Aerial view of El Paso, Texas (on the left) and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua (on the right), the border can clearly be seen as it divides the two cities at night
The wall ending in the Pacific Ocean

U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter, a Republican from California and the then-chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, proposed a plan to the House on November 3, 2005 calling for the construction of a reinforced fence along the entire United States–Mexican border. This would also have included a 100-yard (91 m) border zone on the U.S. side. On December 15, 2005, Congressman Hunter's amendment to the Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437) passed in the House. This plan called for mandatory fencing along 698 miles (1,123 km) of the 1,954-mile (3,145-kilometre) border.[11] On May 17, 2006 the U.S. Senate proposed with Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S. 2611) what could be 370 miles (600 km) of triple layered-fencing and a vehicle fence. Although that bill died in committee, eventually the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2006.[12]

The government of Mexico and ministers of several Latin American countries condemned the plans. Rick Perry, Governor of Texas, also expressed his opposition saying that instead of closing the border it should be opened more and through technology, support legal and safe migration.[13] The barrier expansion was also opposed by a unanimous vote by the Laredo, Texas City Council.[14] Laredo's Mayor, Raul G. Salinas, defended his town's people by saying that the bill, which included miles of border wall, would devastate Laredo. He stated "These are people that are sustaining our economy by forty percent, and I am gonna [sic] close the door on them and put [up] a wall? You don't do that. It's like a slap in the face." He hoped that Congress would revise the bill to better reflect the realities of life on the border.[15]

Secure Fence Act[edit]

H.R. 6061, the "Secure Fence Act of 2006", was introduced on September 13, 2006. It passed through the U.S. House of Representatives on September 14, 2006 with a vote of 283–138.

On September 29, 2006, by a vote of 80–19 the U.S. Senate confirmed H.R. 6061 authorizing, and partially funding the "possible" construction of 700 miles (1,125 km) of physical fence/barriers along the border. The very broad support implied that many assurances were made by the Administration – to the Democrats, Mexico, and the pro "Comprehensive immigration reform" minority among Republicans – that Homeland Security would proceed very cautiously. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, announced that an eight-month test of the virtual fence he favored would precede any construction of a physical barrier.

On October 26, 2006, President George W. Bush signed H.R. 6061 which was voted upon and passed by the 109th Congress of the United States.[16] The signing of the bill came right after a CNN poll showed that most Americans "prefer the idea of more Border Patrol agents to a 700-mile (1,125-kilometer) fence."[17] The Department of Homeland Security has a down payment of $1.2 billion marked for border security, but not specifically for the border fence.[citation needed]

As of January 2010, the fence project had been completed from San Diego, California to Yuma, Arizona.[dubious ] From there it continued into Texas and consisted of a fence that was 21 feet (6.4 m) tall and 6 feet (1.8 m) deep in the ground, cemented in a 3-foot (0.91 m)-wide trench with 5,000 psi (345 bar; 352 kg/cm²) concrete. There were no fatalities during construction, but there were 4 serious injuries with multiple aggressive acts against building crews. There was one reported shooting with no injury to a crew member in the Mexicali region. All fence sections are south of the All-American Canal, and have access roads giving border guards the ability to reach any point easily, including the dunes area where a border agent was killed 3 years prior[when?] and is now sealed off.[citation needed]

The Republican Party's 2012 platform stated that "The double-layered fencing on the border that was enacted by Congress in 2006, but never completed, must finally be built."[18] The Secure Fence Act's costs were estimated at $6 billion,[19] more than the Customs and Border Protection's entire annual discretionary budget of $5.6 billion.[20] The Washington Office on Latin America noted on its Border Fact Check site in 2013 that the cost of complying with the Secure Fence Act's mandate was the reason it had not been completely fulfilled.[21]

Rethinking the expansion[edit]

The border fence between El Paso and Juarez has an elaborate gate structure to allow floodwaters to pass under. The grates prevent people being able to cross under, and can be raised for floodwaters carrying debris. Beyond the fence is a canal and levee before the Rio Grande; the Border Patrol cars hang out on the levee.

The Real ID Act, attached as a rider to a supplemental appropriations bill funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, decreed, "Not withstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary's sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads." Secretary Chertoff used his new power to "waive in their entirety" the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act to extend triple fencing through the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve near San Diego.[22] The Real ID Act further stipulates that the Secretary's decisions are not subject to judicial review, and in December 2005 a federal judge dismissed legal challenges by the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, and others to Chertoff's decision.[citation needed]

Secretary Chertoff exercised his waiver authority on April 1, 2008. In June 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of a lower court ruling upholding the waiver authority in a case filed by the Sierra Club.[citation needed] In September 2008 a federal district court judge in El Paso dismissed a similar lawsuit brought by El Paso County, Texas.[23]

By January 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Homeland Security had spent $40 million on environmental analysis and mitigation measures aimed at blunting any possible adverse impact that the fence might have on the environment. On January 16, 2009, DHS announced it was pledging an additional $50 million for that purpose, and signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of the Interior for utilization of the additional funding.[24]

Expansion freeze[edit]

On March 16, 2010, the Department of Homeland Security announced that there would be a halt to expand the "virtual fence" beyond two pilot projects in Arizona.[25]

Contractor Boeing Corporation had numerous delays and cost overruns. Boeing had initially used police dispatching software that was unable to process all of the information coming from the border. The $50 million of remaining funding would be used for mobile surveillance devices, sensors, and radios to patrol and protect the border. At the time, the Department of Homeland Security had spent $3.4 billion on border fences and had built 640 miles (1,030 km) of fences and barriers as part of the Secure Border Initiative.[25]

Local efforts[edit]

Piecemeal fencing has also been established. In 2005, under its president, Ramón H. Dovalina, Laredo Community College, located on the border, obtained a 10-foot fence built by the United States Marine Corps. The structure was not designed as a border barrier as such but was intended to divert smugglers and illegal immigrants to places where the authorities can halt entrance into the U.S.[26]

Trump administration[edit]

Throughout his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump called for the construction of a much larger and fortified wall, and claimed Mexico will pay for its construction, estimated at $8 to $12 billion, while others state there are enough uncertainties to drive up the cost between $15 to $25 billion.[27][28][29][30] In January 2017, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said the country would not pay for the wall.[31][27][32] On January 25, 2017, the Trump administration signed a Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements Executive Order, 13767 to commence extending the border wall.[33]

Trump had planned to meet Nieto at the White House on January 27, 2017 to discuss topics including border security, and announced the U.S. would impose a 20% tariff on Mexican goods to effectively pay for the wall.[34] Peña Nieto gave a national televised address confirming they would not pay, adding "Mexico doesn't believe in walls", and cancelled the meeting.[35][36]

In March 2017, the Trump administration submitted a budget amendment for fiscal year 2017 that includes a $3 billion continuing budget for border security and immigration enforcement. Trump's FY 2018 Budget Blueprint increases discretionary funds for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by $2.8 billion (to $44.1 billion).[7][37] The DHS Secretary John F. Kelly told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee during a hearing the Budget Blueprint "includes $2.6 billion for high-priority border security technology and tactical infrastructure, including funding to plan, design and construct the border wall."[7]

A survey conducted by the National Border Patrol Council found that 89% of border patrol agents said a "wall system in strategic locations is necessary to securing the border." 7% of agents disagreed.[38] However, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said during a hearing that while Americans want a secure border, she has "not met anyone that says the most effective way is to build a wall across the entirety of our southern border. The only one who keeps talking about that is President Trump."[39]

Trump proposed in a White House meeting that the wall should be covered with solar panels, claiming that this would generate revenue and improve its appearance.[40] On June 21, 2017, Trump told a rally in Cedar Rapids Iowa that he is working on ways "Mexico will have to pay much less money", saying that the wall would be a "solar wall" that could "create energy and pay for itself."[41] Trump also touted a report he had seen on Fox News that cited a study by the Center for Immigration Studies, in which it claimed that a wall along the Mexican border could save taxpayers $64 billion by reducing crime and welfare costs for undocumented immigrants over the next 10 years. Some dispute this, claiming the wall and maintenance would cost more than predicted and that illegal immigrants would just find another way into the nation.[42][43][44] In August 2017, while speaking at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, Trump stated he will close down the U.S. government if necessary to force Congress to pay for the wall.[45] As of the end of 2017, Mexico has not entered into any agreement to pay for any amount of the wall.[37] In March, 2018, Congress appropriated $1.6 billion out of a $1.3 trillion spending bill, which helped toward adding and repairing fence along the border.[46][47][48]

President Trump visiting border wall prototypes in San Diego, March 2018

On September 12, 2017, the United States Department of Homeland Security issued a notice Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke would be waiving "certain laws, regulations and other legal requirements" to begin construction of the new wall near Calexico, California.[49] The waiver allows the Department of Homeland Security to bypass the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Migratory Bird Conservation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Noise Control Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act, the Antiquities Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.[50]

In September 2017, the U.S. government announced the start of construction of eight prototype barriers made from concrete and other materials.[51][52] On June 3, 2018 the San Diego section of the US border wall construction began. [53] On October 26, a two-mile stretch of steel bollards in Calexico, California was commemorated as the first section of Trump's wall.[54]


Divided land[edit]

Tribal lands of three indigenous nations would be divided by a proposed border fence.[55][56]

On January 27, 2008, a Native American human rights delegation in the United States, which included Margo Tamez (Lipan Apache-Jumano Apache) and Teresa Leal (Opata-Mayo) reported the removal of the official International Boundary obelisks of 1848 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the Las Mariposas, Sonora-Arizona sector of the Mexico–U.S. border.[57][58] The obelisks were moved southward approximately 20 m (70 ft), onto the property of private landowners in Sonora, as part of the larger project of installing the 18-foot (5.5 m) steel barrier wall.[59]

The proposed route for the border fence would divide the campus of the University of Texas at Brownsville into two parts, according to Antonio N. Zavaleta, a vice president of the university.[60] There have been campus protests against the wall by students who feel it will harm their school.[2] In August 2008, UT-Brownsville reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the university to construct a portion of the fence across and adjacent to its property. The final agreement, which was filed in federal court on Aug 5 and formally signed by the Texas Southmost College Board of Trustees later that day, ended all court proceedings between UTB/TSC and DHS. On August 20, 2008, the university sent out a request for bids for the construction of a 10-foot (3.0 m) high barrier that incorporates technology security for its segment of the border fence project. The southern perimeter of the UTB/TSC campus will be part of a laboratory for testing new security technology and infrastructure combinations.[61] The border fence segment on the UTB campus was substantially completed by December 2008.[62]

Hidalgo County[edit]

In the spring of 2007 more than 25 landowners, including a corporation and a school district, from Hidalgo and Starr County in Texas refused border fence surveys, which would determine what land was eligible for building on, as an act of protest.[63]

In July 2008, Hidalgo County and Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for the construction of a project that combines the border fence with a levee to control flooding along the Rio Grande. As of September 2008, construction of two of the Hidalgo County fence segments was under way, with five more segments scheduled to be built during the fall of 2008. The Hidalgo County section of the border fence was planned to constitute 22 miles (35 km) of combined fence and levee.[64]

Mexico's condemnations[edit]

Mexico-United States barrier at the pedestrian border crossing in Tijuana
Mexico–United States barrier at the pedestrian border crossing in Tijuana

In 2006, the Mexican government vigorously condemned the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Mexico has also urged the U.S. to alter its plans for expanded fences along their shared border, saying that it would damage the environment and harm wildlife.[65]

In June 2007, it was announced that a section of the barrier had been mistakenly built from 1 to 6 feet (2 meters) inside Mexican territory. This will necessitate the section being moved at an estimated cost of over $3 million (U.S.).[66]

In 2012, then presidential candidate of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto was campaigning in Tijuana at the Playas de Monumental, less than 600 yards (550 m) from the U.S.–Mexico border adjacent to Border Field State Park. In one of his speeches he criticized the U.S. government for building the barriers, and asked for them to be removed. Ultimately, he mocked Ronald Reagan's "Tear down this wall!" speech from Berlin in 1987.[citation needed]

Migrant deaths[edit]

The Wall at the border of Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego; the crosses represent migrants who have died in crossing attempts

Between 1994 and 2007, there were around 5,000 migrant deaths along the Mexico–United States border, according to a document created by the Human Rights National Commission of Mexico, also signed by the American Civil Liberties Union.[67] Between 43 and 61 people died trying to cross the Sonoran Desert from October 2003 to May 2004; three times that of the same period the previous year.[9] In October 2004 the Border Patrol announced that 325 people had died crossing the entire border during the previous 12 months.[68] Between 1998 and 2004, 1,954 persons are officially reported to have died along the Mexico–U.S. border. Since 2004, the bodies of 1,086 migrants have been recovered in the southern Arizona desert.[69]

U.S. Border Patrol Tucson Sector reported on October 15, 2008 that its agents were able to save 443 undocumented immigrants from certain death after being abandoned by their smugglers, during FY 2008, while reducing the number of deaths by 17% from 202 in FY 2007 to 167 in FY 2008. Without the efforts of these agents, hundreds more could have died in the deserts of Arizona.[70] According to the same sector, border enhancements like the wall have allowed the Tucson Sector agents to reduce the number of apprehensions at the borders by 16% compared with fiscal year 2007.[71]

Environmental impact[edit]

"Wildlife-friendly" border wall in Brownsville, Texas, which would allow wildlife to cross the border. A young man climbs the wall using horizontal beams for foot support.
"Wildlife-friendly" border wall in Brownsville, Texas, which would allow wildlife to cross the border. A young man climbs the wall using horizontal beams for foot support.

In April 2008, the Department of Homeland Security announced plans to waive more than 30 environmental and cultural laws to speed construction of the barrier. Despite claims from then Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff that the department would minimize the construction's impact on the environment, critics in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, asserted the fence endangered species and fragile ecosystems along the Rio Grande. Environmentalists expressed concern about butterfly migration corridors and the future of species of local wildcats, the ocelot, the jaguarundi, and the jaguar.[72][73]

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) conducted environmental reviews of each pedestrian and vehicle fence segment covered by the waiver, and published the results of this analysis in Environmental Stewardship Plans (ESPs).[74] Although not required by the waiver, CBP has conducted the same level of environmental analysis (in the ESPs) that would have been performed before the waiver (in the "normal" NEPA process) to evaluate potential impacts to sensitive resources in the areas where fence is being constructed.[citation needed]

ESPs completed by CBP contain extremely limited surveys of local wildlife. For example, the ESP for border fence built in the Del Rio Sector included a single survey for wildlife completed in November 2007, and only "3 invertebrates, 1 reptile species, 2 amphibian species, 1 mammal species, and 21 bird species were recorded." The ESPs then dismiss the potential for most adverse effects on wildlife, based on sweeping generalizations and without any quantitative analysis of the risks posed by border barriers. Approximately 461 acres (187 ha) of vegetation will be cleared along the impact corridor. From the Rio Grande Valley ESP: "The impact corridor avoids known locations of individuals of Walker's manioc (Manihot walkerae) and Zapata bladderpod (Physaria thamnophila), but approaches several known locations of Texas ayenia (Ayenia limitaris). For this reason, impacts on federally listed plants are anticipated to be short-term, moderate, and adverse." This excerpt is typical of the ESPs in that the risk to endangered plants is deemed short-term without any quantitative population analysis.[citation needed]

By August 2008, more than 90% of the southern border in Arizona and New Mexico had been surveyed. In addition, 80% of the California-Mexico border has been surveyed.[8]

About 100 species of plants and animals, many already endangered, are threatened by the wall, including the jaguar, ocelot, Sonoran pronghorn, Mexican wolf, a pygmy owl, the thick-billed parrot, and the Quino checkerspot butterfly. According to Scott Egan of Rice University, a wall can create a population bottleneck, increase inbreeding, and cut off natural migration routes as well as range expansion.[75][76]

An initial 75-mile (121 km) wall for which U.S. funding has been requested on the nearly 2,000-mile (3,200 km) mile border would pass through the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge in California, the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge[77] in Texas, and Mexico's Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that the U.S. is bound by global treaty to protect.[78] The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) plans to build the wall using the Real ID Act to avoid the process of making environmental impact statements, a strategy devised by Michael Chertoff during the Bush administration. Reuters said, "The Real ID Act also allows the secretary of Homeland Security to exempt CBP from adhering to the Endangered Species Act" which would otherwise prohibit construction in a wildlife refuge.[79]

See also[edit]


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