President Donald Trump, appearing publicly for the first time since a violent mob of his supporters attacked the Capitol at his urging, took a victory lap in Texas to claim that the border wall he promised is complete.
“Unlike those who came before me, I kept my promises, and today we celebrated extraordinary milestone, the completion of the promised 450 miles of border wall,” Trump said in Alamo, Texas on Tuesday, surveying a half-mile stretch of new border wall. “Nobody realizes how big that is.”
The wall, which Trump famously said Mexico would pay for, was at the heart of Trump’s campaign to enact more restrictive immigration policies and Trump’s own pitch of himself as a builder-turned-politician. His crowds appreciatively chanted “build the wall, build the wall!” at rallies, and as president, Trump has visited the border numerous times to monitor construction.
“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I’ll build them very inexpensively, I will build a great, great wall on our southern border,” Trump said, announcing his bid for the White House in June 2015.
Trump visits Texas border in first public appearance since Capitol riots
Experts say Trump’s work at the border has had a big impact — on both people and the environment.
“The border wall has been just a small piece of an overall border strategy that has been uniquely cruel and at the same time uniquely successful at blockading migrants, especially asylum seekers,” said Denise Gilman, a University of Texas School of Law professor. Gilman is a co-director of the school’s Immigration Clinic and an immigration attorney who works with families seeking asylum.
Gilman said that once in office, the president’s policies were almost entirely geared towards blocking Central American asylum seekers — not the Mexican immigrants he’d talked about so much as a candidate.
Here’s what Trump promised, and what Trump delivered.
On Tuesday, the president falsely claimed he’d promised — and delivered — 450 miles of border wall.
In fact, that amounts to less than half of his initial promise. And just 47 miles of the 450 miles amounts new structures where none existed before.
In 2015 and 2016, Trump said he expected the border wall would be around 1,000 miles long, with mountains and rivers creating natural barriers, too. More recently, in his 2020 State of the Union address, Trump said that “substantially more than 500 miles” of border wall would be done by early 2021.
A Customs and Border Protection spokesman told NBC News that the Trump administration has built 453 miles of new “border wall system,” which includes barriers as well as patrol roads for patrol cars and other surveillance efforts.
The vast majority of it replaces pedestrian and vehicle barriers erected during previous administrations with much taller steel bollard fencing. Trump falsely claimed he was building a completely new border wall throughout much of his administration when in fact he was replacing older fences.
As of January 8, the Trump administration has built just 47 miles of border wall where none existed before. President Barack Obama left office with 654 miles of border fencing in existence, according to a Government Accountability Office report from early 2017; Trump will leave with 701 miles of border fencing, according to CBP. The half-mile section that Trump visited today was completely new, the spokesman said.
Trump on Tuesday claimed that another 300 miles are in the works. According to CBP, 285 miles are under construction or in the pre-construction phase. President-elect Joe Biden said during his campaign that he intended to stop border wall construction.
Perhaps Trump’s most consistent promise about the border wall was that Mexico would pay for it.
“I will have Mexico pay for that wall, mark my words,” Trump said at his presidential announcement speech, one of hundreds of times he made that promise.
He said during his 2016 campaign that it would cost $8 billion, or perhaps $12 billion, for his 1,000-mile wall. In fact, the federal government has allocated $15 billion for the 453 mile project, according to Time Magazine.
Mexico did not pay for the wall; its leaders have refused since Trump first made his promise. After Trump’s inauguration, the president began suggesting that the U.S. would initially pay, but that Mexico would reimburse the U.S. for the wall.
That has also not happened. Taxpayers foot the bill for Trump’s wall.
Trump spent a lot of time as a candidate talking about how his “big, beautiful” border wall would look. He often said it would be made out of concrete; he said it would be 35 or 40 or 55 or 80 feet tall, depending on the rally.
“The politicians would come up to me, and they’d say, ‘You know, Donald, you can’t build the wall.’ I said, ‘You have to be kidding. You have to be kidding. Concrete plank, you have to be kidding. Precast, precast, right? Boom. Bing. Done. Keep going,” he said in August 2016.
As president, he spent millions on border wall prototypes — some concrete, some steel — to test new border wall structures; all eight were vulnerable to breaching and have since been torn down.
The Trump administration has continued to use steel bollard fencing designs for border barriers, just like the Obama administration.