President Donald Trump signed executive actions Wednesday to begin cracking down on border security, including a new border wall with Mexico. The 2,000-mile-long border is already home to roughly 700 miles of physical barriers, including nearly 19 miles of multi-layered fence along the San Diego-Tijuana border. Nearly two-thirds of the rest of the border has no fence, thanks in part to the same rugged natural barriers — mountains, rivers, canyons and cliffs — that sometimes pose a deadly threat to prospective border crossers.
Work on the first stretch of what’s sometimes referred to as the “Border Wall” started in San Diego in 1993. It remained uncompleted 13 years later, not least because of a long-litigated plan to flatten the terrain of “Smuggler’s Gulch,” a canyon straddling the border that federal authorities have called a notorious smuggling route. Environmentalists lost a legal fight to stop the effort, one they feared could harm the nearby Tijuana Estuary, in 2008. Not long after, the gulch was filled in with 5 ½ million cubic feet of dirt – at a cost of $58 million.
First implemented in 1994 in Imperial Beach, Operation Gatekeeper saw border agents – freshly equipped with military grade vehicles, infrared night scopes and new underground electronic sensors – dispatched to high visibility positions on the border with orders to “to restore integrity and safety to the nation’s busiest border.” Within two years, the multimillion-dollar effort became the target of multiple federal investigations into allegations of fraudulently inflated apprehension figures and falsified intelligence reports.
In the 1990s, Riverside-based Golden State Fence Co. put up fencing at two immigration jails, a Border Patrol station and the U.S.-Mexico border. Its founder, Mel Kay Jr. was later sentenced on charges of hiring undocumented immigrants to do the job.
In 2013, the inspector general audited Customs and Border Protection’s program for refurbishing and updating its aging fleet of H-60 Black Hawk helicopters. The report found the agency had the Army oversee the overhaul at a cost of $22.3 million per helicopter, but “did not properly manage or oversee” the program.
In 2009, Customs and Border Protection paid far more than expected for a new 56,000-square-foot, $25 million Border Patrol station in Lordsburg, N.M., according to an audit of the sale by Homeland Security’s inspector general. The station has a wind turbine, indoor gun range, underground rainwater collection system and room for 375 agents. Original appraisals by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers valued the land under the station at $37,500 and $47,500. It was purchased for $750,000.
The Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have standards in place by which it can measure how effective drones are in bolstering border security or reducing the costs for shoring up the border, according to a 2015 audit from the department’s Office of the Inspector General. Auditors recommended that $443 million border authorities wanted to spend to buy and maintain 14 more drones should be spent on traditional piloted aircraft and equipment on the ground.
A $1.5 billion upgrade to critical border tracking computer software, known as TECS, was plagued by missed deadlines and poor oversight, according to a 2014 report from the Government Accountability Office. The upgrade was supposed to be operating by September 2015, but the report said it’s doubtful that deadline will be met.
Started in 2006 and run by Boeing, the “virtual fence,” or SBInet program, relied on a complicated mesh of ground sensors, radar detectors and surveillance cameras to plug gaps in the border not yet filled by physical barriers. It was shuttered in 2011 after the Department of Homeland Security reported it had spent $1 billion to cover just 53 miles in Arizona.
The Secure Fence Act called for no fewer than 700 miles of reinforced barriers. Only 36 miles of that type of secondary fencing had been erected by 2011, according to Politifact.