(Emily Larsen, Liberty Headlines) Rough terrain, private property rights, and effective design are among the challenges of securing the US-Mexico border with a wall, identified in a new project by USA Today.
In the series of articles, interactive maps, and mini-documentaries, the newspaper explored the basic logistical issues of building the border wall that was strongly advocated for by President Trump. Crews flew the entire 2,000-mile length over the border with a helicopter, obtained federal records, and talked to ranchers, smugglers, and border patrol agents.
Besides the political and financial challenge and debate, the proposed wall faces massive construction challenges in terrain and seizing private property to build the wall.
First, there is the engineering challenge. While 650 miles of the border has a fence or a vehicle barrier, Trump specified during his presidential campaign that he envisioned a wall, not a fence. USA Today explains:
“Whatever the design, federal bid requirements call for a nearly impenetrable and unclimbable barrier, 20 to 30 feet tall — the height of five men. The wall must be anchored in concrete at least six additional feet underground to prevent tunneling. Its foundation must support pillars every 10 to 30 feet. The structure must be at least 8 inches thick and able to withstand at least 30 minutes of assault by sledgehammer, acetylene torch or power impact tools.
And it has to remain standing when subjected to winds, floods, earthquakes and other forces of nature. That means anchoring the wall in bedrock, which in some border areas is buried deep beneath river silt or desert dunes.”
In particularly rugged areas, the desert may be harsh enough that a wall isn’t needed. USA Today talked to the Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner, which found people who had died in the desert trying to cross the border. Dozens of them are still unidentified.
Then, there’s the issue of obtaining the land on which to build the wall.
Wall and fence construction is much easier in California, Arizona, and New Mexico, where a 60-foot strip next to the border is federal land. But in Texas, a state where 95 percent of land is privately owned, owners’ property goes all the way to the winding Rio Grande River border in many places.
To build a wall on the Texas-Mexico border, the federal government would have to force landowners to sell their property to the government through eminent domain. The wall would affect nearly 5,000 properties.
“If they want it, they’re going to take it,” Billy Dyer, and eminent domain attorney, told the newspaper. “The statute that authorized the acquisitions for the border wall is all based on national security and homeland security.”
“I don’t want to sell my property… It’s mine,” said Aleida Flores Garcia, a homeowner in the town of Los Ebanos in the Rio Grande valley in Texas.
Since the Secure Border Fence Act of 2006, she’s fought to keep the house that has been in her family for generations. Her property line goes to the Rio Grande.
Jeremy Bernard, general manager of the River Bend Resort and Golf Club, said the border fence as planned in 2006 would cut through the 18-hole championship golf course.
Fifteen of the holes would be on the south side of the border, and over 200 of the 340 residents of the golf course would be on the south side of the wall – and many would suddenly have a 30-foot structure in their backyard rather than a beautiful golf course view.
“Our goal would be to have President Trump come down and play the golf course and see it – he’s a golfer, he owns golf courses – and say ‘President Trump, how would you want to be treated?’” said Bernard.
But Bernard confesses that when push comes to shove, the resort will cooperate with authorities if it must.
“At the end of the day, if they hear our plan, they see what we’ve been doing here, and they still want to build a wall, we’re going to support them.”
Even after a wall is built, there’s doubt on all sides that it will stop illegal border crossings.
One smuggler noted that the fence is very high – too high to jump. But the smugglers, “polleros,” use homemade ladders.
“If Trump builds a wall as high as this building, the smugglers will just build a ladder that is even higher,” he anonymously told USA Today in a mini-documentary segment.
But Trump’s tough stance and rhetoric on immigration is making some planning illegal border crossings think twice. One man said he’s hesitant to cross back over the border to find his daughter.
“I am afraid they are going to shoot me,” he said. “I am afraid they have their orders. I don’t know if that will really happen, but nevertheless I am very afraid because it’s not the same like before.”