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A U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle is seen next to migrants after they were detained and taken into custody, Sunday, March 21, 2021, in Abram-Perezville, Texas. (AP/Cortez) A U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle is seen next to migrants after they were detained and taken into custody, Sunday, March 21, 2021, in Abram-Perezville, Texas. (AP/Cortez)

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle is seen next to migrants after they were detained and taken into custody, Sunday, March 21, 2021, in Abram-Perezville, Texas. (AP/Cortez)

By Brandon Mulder June 21, 2021

Bush lowballs border wall mileage

Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush wants to continue a project left unfinished by former President Donald Trump.  

As part of his recently-launched bid to unseat Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in the 2022 Republican primary, Bush has designs to join other state leaders in finishing the border wall using state resources. 

In a June 9 interview on Fox Business, Bush took a moment to blast Vice President Kamala Harris and the Biden administration for its perceived inaction in response to the influx of migrants arriving at the southern U.S. border.  

"There’s absolutely no sense of urgency," Bush told Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo. "We see an uncompleted wall that was duly appropriated dollars during the Trump days to build over 700 miles. Only 150 miles were constructed." 

Continuing construction on the border wall in Texas is emerging as a popular commitment among Texas Republican leaders and candidates as the Republican primary cycle begins. It is one of former Republican state Sen. Don Huffines’ central campaign pledges in his campaign for governor. And on Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that his office would be pursuing construction of a state-owned border wall financed by $250 million from the state combined with private donations solicited online. 

Trump indeed fell short of his original border wall goals. His 2016 campaign initially promised 1,000 miles of barriers along the 2,000 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, but by 2017 that goal shifted to "anywhere from 700 to 900 miles." In 2020 the goalposts moved again to "about 537 miles altogether." And before Trump left office, he claimed to have "completed the wall" with about 450 miles of barriers constructed.

Is Bush lowballing Trump’s border wall achievements, or was Trump exaggerating the number of miles that were constructed during his term? 

Counting border wall miles 

On Jan. 8, during the final weeks of Trump's tenure, U.S. Customs and Border Protection released a border wall status memo detailing additions made between 2017 and 2020.  

According to the memo, about 738 miles of barriers were planned. Of those, about 453 miles were completed, and the remaining 285 miles were either under construction or in the pre-construction phase, which President Joe Biden ceased upon entering office. Only about 17 of these miles were constructed in Texas all within the Rio Grande Valley sector.  

There are several ways to count border wall miles. U.S. Customs and Border Protection divides wall barriers into several different categories. There are walls constructed in locations where no barriers previously existed, and walls constructed in place of dilapidated or outdated designs. There are barriers built as "primary walls," which people walking across the border would encounter first, and barriers built as "secondary walls," which run behind the length of primary walls along some sections. 

Of the 453 completed miles, about 47 miles of primary walls and 33 miles of secondary walls were constructed where no barriers previously existed. And 351 miles of primary walls and 22 miles of secondary walls were constructed to replace dilapidated or outdated designs.  

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It’s unclear what math Bush used to find that "only 150 miles were constructed." His office referred all questions to his campaign, and a spokesperson for his campaign never responded to questions asking for his calculus.  

But by no permutation of these figures can you arrive at a total of 150 miles. If looking at primary walls alone, a total of about 400 miles were built. Fifty-five miles of secondary walls were constructed. If looking at walls only built where no barriers previously existed, 80 miles of walls were erected, while 373 miles were built in place of dilapidated or obsolete structures.  

Appropriated border wall funds 

Furthermore, Bush makes a dubious claim that wall construction was funded by "duly appropriated dollars during the Trump days." 

The Trump administration initially requested $13.3 billion through 2020 for wall construction, but Congress provided $4.47 billion through Department of Homeland Security appropriations, according to the Congressional Research Service. Of that total, about $1 billion was directed to barrier replacement projects, $1.4 billion was directed to planning and $2 billion was directed to construction needs in the Rio Grande Valley sector. 

Funds appropriated by Congress for wall construction are legally obligated to be used consistent with their appropriated purpose, no matter the administration in office. 

The only other money appropriated to border wall construction was part of a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in 2020. That bill included $900 billion for COVID-19 relief and nearly $1.4 billion for wall funding. Biden has since paused the flow of those funds to border wall construction projects. 

However, the primary way the Trump administration funded the border wall project was by redirecting dollars originally appropriated by Congress to other government agencies for other purposes, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection memo. Between 2017 and 2019, about $15 billion was redirected from three agencies to Trump’s wall project through a series of executive actions. 

"Since January 2017, ~$15 billion has been identified to construct ~738 miles of new border wall system through a combination of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Defense (DoD) funding and the Treasury Forfeiture Fund (TFF)," the memo reads. "Funding received supports planning, design, real estate, environmental, construction and oversight activities." 

On June 11, the Biden administration announced that it would use money appropriated by Congress for Trump’s border wall projects to "remediate urgent life, safety, and environmental issues resulting from the previous administration’s border wall construction." 

Those remediation projects include closing breaches in the Rio Grande Valley levee system, remediating soil erosion in San Diego and cleaning up border wall construction sites. 

Our ruling 

It’s unclear how Bush concluded that "only 150 miles were constructed" of the border wall during the Trump administration. However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection data shows that this is an undercount. About 453 miles of primary and secondary border walls were completed between 2017 and 2020. 

Bush’s claim that Congress appropriated money to build over 700 miles of barriers also misses the mark. Although Congress appropriated some money — $5.9 billion — for the border wall project during Trump’s term, most of the construction was financed using $15 billion redirected from other purposes. 

We rate this claim False. 

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Bush lowballs border wall mileage

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