Amid a record number of migrant crossings, the Biden administration announced on October 5 that it has authorized the construction of new segments in the U.S.-Mexico border wall using Trump-era funds. The motion to proceed contradicts a pledge Biden made in January 2021 where POTUS declared “no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall.”
At the White House yesterday, President Biden said his hands are tied. He claimed that there was little his administration could do to re-appropriate budgets and stop the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from proceeding with construction; the agency is required by law to carry it out, Biden stated. (The Biden administration however failed to say exactly which law.)
Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador called the news a “step backwards that does not solve the problem.” Since taking office, Obrador has been an outspoken advocate against the wall: In 2018, he criticized Trump for building 560 miles of border wall in his book A New Hope for Mexico: Saying No to Corruption, Violence, and Trump’s Wall.
For many, the Biden administration’s decision to proceed is unsurprising. In a highly-polarized government that just took the unprecedented step of ousting its House Speaker, the U.S.-Mexico border wall—since the 1990s—has been one bipartisan issue both sides of the aisle have consistently agreed upon.
The first border control station between Mexico and the U.S. was built in Eagles Pass, Texas after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1896. Amid rising tensions stemming from World War I, the first border fence dividing the U.S. and Mexico was built in 1918 in Nogales, Arizona. In 1945, five more miles of chain link fence was built. In the 1970s, the Carter administration built 27 more miles, which President Carter racistly called the “Tortilla Curtain.”
By the 1990s, only a scant amount of wall had been built however in consideration to the border’s full length. In e-flux, architect Theo Deutinger, who researched the wall’s history, noted that only “fifty miles of the 1,954-mile-long border were fenced by the end of the 1990s,” a number that would hockey stick in the years to come.
In 2002, the U.S. was spending just $6 million on border wall construction. By 2007, that number leapt up to $647 million after the “Secure Fence Act of 2006” was passed which authorized the construction of 700 miles of new wall. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 garnered bipartisan support: George W. Bush; then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama; then-New York Senator Hillary Clinton and current Senator Chuck Schumer; and then-Delaware Senator Joe Biden all voted for it.
The Secure Fence Act of 2006 was also the first instance that prescribed design guidelines for what the border wall should look like. Until then, U.S. border agents were recycling steel mats used in the Vietnam War to fortify the border. After 2006, DHS created a total of nineteen different fence types that can be deployed depending on the context, Deutinger said. Personnel-Vehicle Fence Type 1 (PV-1) for instance is the most popular. (At MAGA rallies when Trump screams “BUILD THAT WALL,” what he specifically means is “BUILD PV-1.”) PV-1 was designed to halt cars from crossing the border while others are designed for emigres traveling by foot.
To date, parts of the border wall have been built by W.G. Yates & Sons, a construction firm with offices around the U.S. In December 2019, a general contractor based in Galveston, Texas, SLSCO, was paid $789 million by the government to replace 46 miles of border wall in New Mexico. Later, Barnard Construction Company—based in Bozeman, Montana—was paid $187 million by the feds to build 11 new miles of wall in three disparate segments on southwestern Arizona’s Yuma County border.
In 2020, five general contractors applied to build another three-mile stretch of wall by order of Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Those firms included BFBC; Fisher Sand & Gravel; Posillico Civil; SLSCO; and Southwest Valley Constructors. Moving forward, a general contractor for the Biden administration’s segment hasn’t been announced, nor the geographic region implicated.