President Donald Trump claimed his administration has kicked off one of his landmark campaign promises: the construction of a border wall with Mexico.
"We have to have strong borders. We need the wall. We’ve started building the wall, as you know, we have a $1.6 billion toward building the wall and fixing existing wall that’s falling down, it was never appropriate in the first place," Trump said standing next to Baltic leaders during an April 3 press conference.
And on March 28 tweeted pictures of construction work at the border and wrote, "Great briefing this afternoon on the start of our Southern Border WALL!"
Trump’s words leave the impression that construction is underway for the border wall he promised, and that $1.6 billion is helping pay for it. That’s not the case.
There are projects underway along parts of the border to improve or replace fencing, but none of that includes any of the eight border wall prototypes ordered by the Trump administration. In fact, U.S. Customs and Border Protection told PolitiFact this week that a prototype has not been selected.
The White House did not respond on the record to our request for comment.
Trump reluctantly signed a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill on March 23 that he threatened to veto in part because his promised border wall was "not fully funded." The bill included $1.6 billion for some projects at the border, but none of that can be used toward the border wall promised during the presidential campaign.
The bill said the designated funds "shall only be available for operationally effective designs deployed as of the date of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017" (May 5, 2017), "such as currently deployed steel bollard designs, that prioritize agent safety."
The specific uses are:
• $251 million for approximately 14 miles of secondary fencing along the southwest border in the San Diego sector;
• $445 million for 25 miles of primary pedestrian levee fencing along the southwest border in the Rio Grande Valley Sector;
• $196 million for primary pedestrian fencing along the southwest border in the Rio Grande Valley Sector;
• $445 million for replacement of existing primary pedestrian fencing along the southwest border;
• $38 million for border barrier planning and design; and
• $196 million for acquisition and deployment of border security technology
"This is replacing and improving existing fences," said Sanho Tree, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning think tank.
According to Los Angeles Times reporting, the photos Trump shared in his March 28 tweet about "the start of our southern border WALL" were for the replacement of an estimated 2.25-mile border wall in Calexico, Calif., built in the 1990s using recycled scraps of metal and old landing mat. That barrier is being replaced with a 30-foot high bollard-style wall. Plans for that replacement began in 2009 and were funded in 2017, the newspaper reported.
The Los Angeles Times quoted Jonathan Pacheco, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s El Centro Sector as having said earlier in March: "First and foremost, this isn’t Trump’s wall. This isn’t the infrastructure that Trump is trying to bring in. … This new wall replacement has absolutely nothing to do with the prototypes that were shown over in the San Diego area."
Customs and Border Protection issued a news release March 30 headlined, "Border Wall Construction Underway."
The release said the $1.6 billion funding would provide for the construction of about 100 miles of new border wall. It uses the term "border wall" to refer to fencing and other structures, not the prototypes Trump has touted.
It highlights, among other construction, the 20-mile replacement of primary vehicle barrier in Santa Teresa, N.M.; the replacement in San Diego of 14 miles of outdated steel plate barrier with a bollard structure; the replacement of at least two miles of border barrier in Calexico with 30-foot bollard wall; and four miles of bollard wall in El Paso.
"We’re building 35 new gates along a stretch of 55 miles of existing border wall," acting deputy commissioner Ronald Vitiello said in the release.
Trump's claim "not only conflates walls and fences, but also plays into Trump's false narrative that there are not already barriers along much of the border," said Hannah R. Gurman, a clinical associate professor at New York University who has researched the history of U.S. immigration enforcement and its intersection with criminal prosecution.
As far as the prototypes go, it’s uncertain if one of them will be built at the border as designed.
The Department of Homeland Security "does not anticipate" that a single prototype will be selected as the design standard for future border wall construction, said Customs and Border Protection spokesman Carlos Diaz.
"Rather, the eight different prototypes are each anticipated to inform future border wall design standards in some capacity," Diaz told PolitiFact April 2.
Diaz said the agency has tested, assessed and evaluated the prototypes to determine which of them most effectively stops illegal crossings. Evaluators have proposed new features to add to CBP’s "toolkit" of border wall designs, Diaz said.
PolitiFact’s Trump-O-Meter is tracking Trump’s promise to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it. It rates In the Works because the promise has been proposed or is being considered.
Trump said, "We’ve started building the wall."
There are projects underway to replace existing border fencing and to add some new barriers. But it’s disingenuous to claim they amount to the border wall Trump has long promised. A recent appropriation of $1.6 billion allows the replacement of existing fencing, but not the construction of any sort of wall prototype. CBP said the prototypes will be used "to inform" future design standards.
We rate Trump’s claim Mostly False.