Federal officials unveil plans for four-mile, 18-foot-tall wall on Texas-Mexico border

U.S. Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Hull from the El Paso Sector speaks at a press conference about a segment of the border wall being built near downtown El Paso, on Sept. 21, 2018.
U.S. Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Hull from the El Paso Sector speaks at a press conference about a segment of the border wall being built near downtown El Paso, on Sept. 21, 2018.
Jesus Rosales for The Texas Tribune

EL PASO — For years, Raul Martinez has enjoyed the view of his native Ciudad Juárez from his modest apartment complex on the south side of this border city.

In a few months he could be forced to peer through an 18-foot-tall fence to get the same vantage point.

That’s the reality for residents of the Chihuahita neighborhood, one of the oldest in the country, since U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials announced they’d be constructing a four-mile barrier just north of the Rio Grande River — mandated by President Donald Trump’s 2017 executive order on border security.

“You’re not going to be able to see the panorama of Juárez anymore,” Martinez, 76, said after a Friday press conference where federal officials detailed their plans for the $22 million project. “It’s sad.”

The barrier will replace the chain-link fencing that El Paso Border Patrol Sector Chief Patrol Agent Aaron Hull said has become obsolete. The new fence, or “wall” as federal officials are calling it, will be made of steel bollards and include a five-foot-tall “anti-climbing plate” at the top.

It’s a dramatic shift from the current fencing. And it’s a reminder to the public that — despite the political gridlock that has so far stymied the president’s vision of a continuous, “big, beautiful” wall on the border — the White House is doing what it can to make good on one of Trump’s signature campaign promises.

The El Paso news follows an April announcement of a 20-mile-long barrier in nearby Santa Teresa, N.M., which is also in the El Paso Border Patrol sector.

“We said we were going to build it, and we built it, now we’re moving on,” Hull said of the New Mexico project, which he expects to be completed early next year.

Friday’s announcement rattled some El Pasoans because the Chihuahuita neighborhood is the site of annual cross-border Catholic masses, as well as several yearly events that bring families from Mexico and the United States together for a short time.

Hull said the Border Patrol would continue to work with community leaders on those issues but suggested nothing is guaranteed.

“When you ask us for certain things, like access to stage certain events, we have to look at the impact it’s going to have on border security,” he said.

Hull added that despite the Trump administration’s best efforts to curb illegal crossings, the El Paso sector has seen a dramatic spike in attempted entries.

“Here in the El Paso sector, if you compare (fiscal year) 2017 to (fiscal year) 2018 year-to-date, you’ll see a 61 percent increase in entries,” he said. He added than “loopholes” in immigration law continue to encourage people from other countries to enter the United States illegally to seek asylum.

Most asylum-seekers, however, turn themselves in to Border Patrol agents or attempt to cross into the U.S. legally at official ports of entry. When asked how a wall would deter that practice, Hull reiterated the positive results of existing physical barriers.

“The wall makes it harder to enter illegally and it reduces illegal entry; it’s been proven time and time again,” he said.

Critics of the Trump administration’s call for a wall have said smugglers would simply climb over them or tunnel under them. But the El Paso barrier, which is expected to be complete in April 2019, will be dug six feet into the ground and include two feet of concrete underneath.

As Hull made his way through his remarks on Friday, about 50 protesters lined up just feet away from Border Patrol officers who guarded the entrance to the news conference.

Marisa Limón, the deputy director of the Hope Border Institute, a grassroots Catholic organization that advocates for immigrants’ rights, said cross-border activities and engagement “won’t stop because of a wall or a bridge or reinforcement of a metal fence.”

Though federal officials call the steel bollard fencing a wall, it doesn’t exactly resemble any of the eight prototypes that they unveiled in San Diego in October. When asked why the sector chose to go with the bollard fencing when President Trump has insisted on a wall, a spokesman said he wasn’t going to comment on such national issues.

“It’s the years of experience, years of work that will tell us what type of infrastructure we need in certain areas,” said Border Patrol Agent Ramiro Cordero. “We are the experts in border security.”



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