CALEXICO, Calif. — Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Friday unveiled the first completed border wall project that was constructed as a result of President Trump’s push to further secure the U.S.-Mexico border.
"Walls work, it’s not my opinion," Nielsen said at the ceremony near downtown Calexico, a rural border town of approximately 38,000 residents. "It’s not a tag line. It’s a fact."
Construction of the 30-foot, 2.5-mile-long wall began in February and lasted eight months. Nielsen watched as welders affixed a sign to the wall to commemorate the event. It's now the tallest barrier on the entire 2,000-mile-long southwest border.
"Looking at this, I would not attempt to climb it," Nielsen said.
A plaque with President Trump's name was welded onto the wall after the ceremony as Nielsen and U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan watched.
The wall replaced an older, shorter barrier that was installed in the 1990s and was comprised of recycled scraps of metal and old landing mats that could easily be climbed over without a ladder. The new wall is made of bollard fencing that consists of vertical steel posts that have been planted in the ground.
The replacement project in Calexico was one of U.S. Border Patrol's highest priorities because of the continued high level of illegal immigration and drug smuggling in the El Centro Sector. The project also includes about 2.5 miles of all-weather roads.
These few miles of the El Centro Sector have seen the highest rates of apprehensions and drug smuggling in recent decades after its western neighbor, the San Diego Sector, enhanced its border security infrastructure. The move prompted smugglers to funnel traffic 90 miles east in the desert of southeastern California.
People taken into custody in El Centro shot up from 28,000 in 1994 to 240,000 in 2000.
"I’m confident that with this new 30-foot wall we can drive the number of apprehensions down ever further and chief was already telling me how it’s made a difference already in a few weeks," Nielsan said, referring to El Centro Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez.
The project was funded by fiscal 2017 appropriations, which also funded 14 miles of replacement wall in San Diego, Calif.
When asked during the press briefing if Congress's refusal to fund Trump's request for $25 billion for all desired border infrastructure would prompt apprehensions to spike in fiscal 2019 after it jumped 100,000 from 2017 to 2018, she said CBP and DHS were focused on the most important aspects of that request.
"We have made the request to Congress," said Nielsen. "Whatever Congress does we are prepared to continue to focus on those areas ... But we do need the wall so we continue to ask Congress for additional funds."
The Trump administration in late March announced plans to use $1.6 billion in new congressional funding for 100 miles of new and replacement border wall along the U.S.-Mexico boundary.
Then-acting deputy commissioner of CBP, Ronald Vitiello, described the wall system as a "comprehensive solution that provides wall, lighting, enforcement cameras, and other related technology, and all-weather roads to impede and deny illegal cross-border activity."
Roughly 47 miles of current border wall is being replaced and the remaining 53 miles are new barriers.
Twenty-five miles of new levee wall will be put up in Hidalgo County, Texas, and eight miles of new wall will be built in Starr County, Texas.
In the Rio Grande Valley, 35 new gates will be added throughout a 55-mile stretch of existing border wall. Vitiello said the additions will close "critical gaps in the current infrastructure."
Santa Teresa, N.M., will see 20 new miles of border wall. Construction in New Mexico is scheduled to start as early as next week.
CBP announced in September plans to build eight border wall prototypes in San Diego. The prototypes underwent testing and evaluation through February.
VItiello said all of the designs will go toward the type of barriers that are built on the border. The kinds of wall used will depend on the needs of the officers who work in those regions.
CBP wants an additional 1,000 miles of new fencing and said the $25 billion Trump requested in January would be enough to get all of it built.