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President Donald Trump near a section of the U.S.-Mexico border construction, Jan. 12, 2021, in Alamo, Texas. (AP) President Donald Trump near a section of the U.S.-Mexico border construction, Jan. 12, 2021, in Alamo, Texas. (AP)

President Donald Trump near a section of the U.S.-Mexico border construction, Jan. 12, 2021, in Alamo, Texas. (AP)

Miriam Valverde
By Miriam Valverde March 29, 2021

Border barrier wasn’t 90% finished when Biden halted construction

If Your Time is short

  • Contracts for construction at the southern border total billions of dollars, and Biden has directed a pause in construction.

  • But construction was not 90% finished.

A Facebook post claims that construction of a southern border wall stopped just before completion. It’s highly misleading.

"We spent billions on a border wall and quit when it was 90% finished," said a March 23 Facebook post, which included a photo claiming to show people streaming through an opening at the border.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

President Joe Biden on his first day in office issued a proclamation to pause construction on the southern border and to assess the legality of the funding and construction contracts. Critics of the Biden administration say his policies are encouraging people to migrate illegally to the U.S.

But the post fails to account for some important facts. Among them is that former President Donald Trump routinely moved the goal post regarding how many miles of border wall he wanted to build. Most of the construction that happened under his presidency involved the replacement of old barriers with new fencing that’s expected to be more effective in stopping illegal immigration. And experts have said that the border barriers are not a significant factor in the current migration surge.

"The amount of wall that would have been built between January and now is negligible and would have practically no effect on how many people are crossing the border," Nicole Hallett, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, recently told PolitiFact North Carolina.

Trump’s shifting promise

As a presidential candidate, Trump repeatedly said that the nearly 2,000-mile southern border needed a wall only along 1,000 miles. Natural barriers took care of the rest, he said. 

After his election, Trump offered varying estimates on the length of the wall and how many miles needed protection. He lowered projections the longer he was in office. 

"You’ll need anywhere from 700 to 900 miles," he said in July 2017. 

"We are going to do about 537 miles altogether," he said in July 2020.

About a week before he left office — with about 450 miles of barriers completed — Trump claimed to have "completed the wall."

"And today, we celebrate an extraordinary milestone, the completion of the promised 450 miles of border wall, 450 miles," Trump said Jan. 12.

He claimed that an additional 300 miles were "either in construction or pre-construction."

Trump’s inconsistent statements make it tough to measure his success. But we did not find a way to get to 90% completion, regardless of the metric used.

Construction under Trump’s tenure

Trump’s talk of a border wall commonly gave the impression that no barriers existed at the southern border and that he would build a wall along hundreds of unprotected miles. That’s not what happened. The Trump administration is responsible for about 7% of the approximately 700 miles of primary barriers now in place on the southern border.

When Trump entered office, the southern border had 654 miles of primary barriers — fencing to stop people on foot and in vehicles. By the time he left, that increased by 52 miles, to 706 miles of primary barriers.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said that since January 2017, officials had "identified" about $15 billion for about 738 miles of border projects. As of late January 2021, crews had completed work on about 458 miles of those 738 miles (mainly replacement projects). So even by that metric, overall construction was not "90% finished" by the time Trump left office.

Here’s a breakdown of what construction crews had done by late January:

  • Replaced 351 miles of outdated and/or dilapidated primary barriers;

  • Replaced 22 miles of outdated and/or dilapidated secondary barriers;

  • Installed 52 miles of primary barriers in places where no barriers previously existed;

  • Installed 33 miles of secondary barriers in places where no barriers previously existed.

Despite Trump’s promise, Mexico did not pay for the construction. Funding for the projects came from the U.S. departments of Homeland Security and Defense, and the Treasury Forfeiture Fund, CBP said. 

 Our ruling

A Facebook post said, "We spent billions on a border wall and quit when it was 90% finished."

Contracts for construction at the southern border total billions of dollars, and Biden has directed a pause in construction. That’s not in dispute.

But construction was not 90% finished. In addition, most of the work completed under the Trump administration involved the replacement of older barriers.

The post contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

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More by Miriam Valverde

Border barrier wasn’t 90% finished when Biden halted construction

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