National Security

After Long Delay, DHS Begins Construction On Border Wall Prototypes

REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez

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Will Racke Immigration and Foreign Policy Reporter
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Homeland security officials announced Tuesday that construction of border wall prototypes was underway, kicking off a long-delayed phase of President Donald Trump’s signature border security initiative.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is overseeing the construction of eight test models near San Diego that will be used to “inform future design standards” for the full border wall, officials said.

The prototypes — four concrete barriers and four constructed of alternative materials — are expected to be completed within 30 days.

“We are committed to securing our border and that includes constructing border walls. Our multi-pronged strategy to ensure the safety and security of the American people includes barriers, infrastructure, technology and people,” Ronald Vitiello, CBP acting deputy commissioner, said in a statement. “Moving forward with the prototypes enables us to continue to incorporate all the tools necessary to secure our border.

Originally slated to begin in June, prototype construction ground to a halt this summer after a protest by a project bidder who claimed CBP officials unfairly dismissed his company from consideration. The Government Accountability Office rejected the appeal in late August, allowing CBP to move forward with the section of finalists. (RELATED: Homeland Security Announces Border Wall Prototype Finalists)

Funding for construction of the 18-30 foot test models comes from a $20 million pot of money that Congress set aside in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget. For the project to move beyond the prototype phase, lawmakers will have to appropriate wall funds in the FY 2018 budget, a demand that congressional Democrats have thus far insisted is a non-starter.

The White House has suggested it will look to tie wall funds to a deal that gives legal status to beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Child Hood Arrivals (DACA) program, but a bipartisan compromise on the issue has yet to materialize.

In the meantime, the Trump administration is preparing the legal ground to begin construction on the wall if and when Congress appropriates funding for it. Then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in August waived environmental regulations to expedite building on federal land in the highly-trafficked border area near San Diego.

Environmental groups sued the administration over the waivers, claiming that Kelly did not have the authority to override federal protections for critical wildlife habitats. The state of California has also sued to stop wall construction, citing administration violations of environmental laws.

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