Over, under, through: Wall prototypes undergo tests
TIJUANA, Mexico - Jose Avila sifted through mounds of recycled materials, looking for plastic bottles. It’s how he makes a living.
Visible from where Avila was working on a recent sunny day, eight, 30-foot structures towered over the hilly landscape — including the aging 10-foot fence that divides Mexico and the U.S. on the outskirts of San Diego.
One of those prototypes of President Donald Trump’s border wall, which crews completed by Thursday’s deadline, could eventually replace the shorter, aging fence.
Watching from Mexico, Avila, however, seemed unimpressed.
“I don’t know why they’re building them that tall if immigration will always stay the same,” Avila said during a break from his work. “People will go under or over it, it won’t stop.”
That’s precisely what U.S. Customs and Border Protection will spend the coming weeks trying to determine, using what could be some punishing tests.
‘Testing and evaluation’
Despite delays and confusion among bidders about the process, CBP said work on the prototypes had wrapped up on schedule.
Half of the structures were built of concrete. The other four employ other construction materials, though they also incorporated concrete elements.
CBP’s Southwest Branch Chief Carlos Diaz said officials will let the concrete cure for 30 days before testing the prototypes.
“We don’t have details at this point, but we are expected to put those designs through the same uses and techniques that organizations that smuggle people into the U.S. normally use,” Diaz said.
The tests, which will be conducted over 30 to 60 days, will evaluate whether the designs do what the gov-
ernment outlined when it asked for bids. Those include:
❚ Features that prevent individuals from being able to climb over the wall unassisted, or using hooks or handholds.
❚ Features to thwart tunneling beneath the wall — at least 6 feet below ground.
❚ The strength to withstand efforts to breach the wall for 60 minutes for the concrete prototypes, and 30 minutes for the “other” prototypes.
Diaz said CBP might bring in other federal departments to help with testing.
The agency won’t necessarily choose a single, winning design as it moves forward with plans to build a wall, he said.
“There could be a case that one of the features works well against let’s say anti-climb, and another design looks great at anti-dig. So ... there’s a possibility that those could be incorporated together to make a better design,” Diaz said.
The eight border-wall prototypes stemmed from Trump’s promise to build a “big, beautiful wall.”
Last month, he told supporters at an Alabama rally he was “going to go out and look at them personally” and “pick the right one” to build along the U.S.Mexico border.
CBP referred questions about Trump’s involvement to the White House. “But ... there is nothing that prevents him from being involved in the selection process,” Diaz added.
CBP needs money to move forward with building the wall.
Congress is expected to take up funding for border infrastructure later in the year. But that money, if approved, would be used to expand current fencing, not to build new walls similar to the prototypes.
Watching from Mexico, Avila expressed skepticism about the effect that walls similar to the prototypes would have on border crossers.
He said he has crossed the border illegally on several occasions, successfully evading law enforcement and the barriers currently in place. After 10 years in California, he was caught and deported to Tijuana, he said.
That experience, and living at the border, has taught him barriers will do little to deter desperate individuals seeking better opportunities on the other side, he said.
“They think that by building those walls, they’re going to end immigration,” he said. “But it’ll be the same.”