- Reuters/Rick Wilking
President Donald Trump looks set to ask Congress for more than $4 billion for his much-touted border wall, and proposal requests issued by the Department of Homeland Security have asked for a “physically imposing” wall at least 30 feet high.
But recent comments from Trump’s interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, cast doubt on just how imposing parts of that wall would be – if they get built at all.
“The border is complicated, as far as building a physical wall,” Zinke told the Public Lands Council, which represents Western ranchers, on Tuesday in comments first reported by E&E News.
“The Rio Grande, what side of the river are you going to put the wall?” he said. “We’re not going to put it on our side and cede the river to Mexico. And we’re probably not going to put it in the middle of the river.”
Some areas may be more amenable to electronic defenses, Zinke told attendees. Other spots with imposing physical features may end up not needing additional barriers. The border is already dotted with sensors and monitors, as well as about 700 miles of fencing.
Since Trump first began touting his wall idea on the campaign trail, numerous observers have pointed out how the terrain along parts of the 2,000-mile border either negated the need for a wall or would make building it difficult if not impossible.
- AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Parts of the frontier in Arizona are wild and treacherous, making crossing dangerous. (The US border patrol has been accused of using these areas as a “weapon” against crossers.)
Parts of Texas’ border with Mexico, which covers about 1,200 miles, are marked by high cliffs and deep canyons. The Rio Grande, a river that delineates most of the Texas-Mexico frontier and marks the actual border in some places, widens into the 154-mile Falcon International Reservoir in eastern Texas.
Texas legislators have criticized the idea of a solid, physical barrier on the border or even the idea of a wall itself. (Trump surrogates suggested the wall could be technological during the campaign, but Trump’s camp backed away from that idea at the time.)
- REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
“I don’t know how that would work,” Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, told The Dallas Morning News. Cornyn opposes a full-length border wall. “When I hear the president talk about a wall, to me I think he’s speaking metaphorically,” he said.
“Building a wall is the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border,” Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd said in late January. “Each section of the border faces unique geographical, cultural, and technological challenges that would be best addressed with a flexible, sector-by-sector approach that empowers the agents on the ground with the resources they need.”
Texans on the border whose land could be in the path of a wall have also praised electronic measures, as well as personnel on the ground, as the better way to go.
- (AP Photo/Michael Graczyk)
Previous attempts to erect a barrier on the border have been stymied by the geography of the region as well as by the rugged legal terrain surrounding land use.
Parts of the border lie on floodplains where building is prohibited by a US-Mexico treaty, though the US organization that oversees management of that land dropped its objections to wall construction in the floodplain in 2012.
President George W. Bush’s border-fence construction efforts in the mid-2000s created a no-man’s land between the fence and the river, and gaps in the barrier were left to allow property owners access to their land south of the fence.
- Reuters/Jon Herskovitz
“This is definitely not secure,” Robert Cameron, a Trump supporter who runs a tour company along the Texas-Mexico border, told CNN earlier this year while driving along portions of that fence.
“I don’t know how that impenetrable wall is going to be built,” he said. “People need access to their land.”
Zinke’s comments also raised the complicated rights issues concerning the Rio Grande, which provides water to people and industry on both sides of the border.
Some have interpreted his remarks as a hint that some or all of the wall could be constructed on Mexican territory, but given Mexicans’ strong rebuke of Trump’s insistence that their country pay for the wall, such a proposal is almost certainly a nonstarter.
Trump’s administration, however, appears to be gearing up to solve one of the land-use issues confronting it.
On January 12, Texans along the Rio Grande received notices from the US government offering them money for their land. They have the right to refuse the offer, but the government could then be able to seize it through eminent domain.