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By Sylvia Longmire
Contributor, In Homeland Security
After over a year of rhetoric and months of delays, there is some tangible movement towards expanding the barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, less affectionately and commonly referred to as “the wall.” On August 31, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the list of vendors that were selected to build prototypes for this expansion. According to CNN, the announcement came after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) dismissed a protest the following day that was filed on the contract awards and had delayed the projects. Construction was originally scheduled to begin in June 2017, but like most projects involving border infrastructure—and DHS in general—it has been delayed until this fall.
Several Different Border Wall Prototypes
The four companies named to build were Caddell Construction Co. of Montgomery, Alabama; Fisher Sand & Gravel Co. of Tempe, Arizona; Texas Sterling Construction Co. of Houston, Texas; and W. G. Yates & Sons Construction Company of Philadelphia, Mississippi. There were two different requests for proposals (RFPs) put forth by DHS, but these companies were selected only to fulfill the RFP for building a 30-foot high concrete wall design. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) anticipates receiving between four and eight prototypes.
Such a border barrier is unlike anything built along the southwest border to date. While the 672 miles of existing border pedestrian fencing and vehicle barrier include a hodge-podge of different design styles, they all have one thing in common—agents can see through them. From the mesh pedestrian fence in San Diego sector to the bollard poles in the Rio Grande Valley sector, Border Patrol agents like being able to keep a physical eye on anyone trying to either climb over the fence or pass items through it. Although cameras and sensors can keep an eye on events on the Mexico side of such a wall, a concrete barrier impedes situational awareness for agents on the ground on the U.S. side.
Donald Trump’s Border Wall Plans
Despite intense rhetoric by President Donald Trump about walling the entire border off, he started backtracking a few months ago from this stance, saying some parts of the border have existing (and effective) natural barriers and the border wall would only need to be placed in certain strategic areas. CBP’s acting Deputy Commissioner Ronald Vitiello showed the media diagrams of plans for border solutions in both urban and rural areas, which included the typical “see-through” design, usually a bollard fence, along the immediate border, a zone for enforcement, and then a secondary barrier with cameras and sensors. The concrete proposals are largely for that secondary barrier, Vitiello said.
Trump also seems to be in for a fight to fund any major border barrier expansion. He initially got the green light for $20 million that Congress authorized DHS to pull from other places in the budget earlier this year (since everyone knew Mexico was never going to pay for construction of a border wall). However, per CNN, Congress has not yet authorized any further money to actually build new miles of wall, though Trump has issued a threat to shut down the government if they don’t do so this year. According to Vitiello, Each prototype award will be worth roughly $400,000 to $500,000.
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