Over, un­der, through: Wall pro­to­types un­dergo tests

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Rafael Car­ranza

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.

Trump’s in­volve­ment

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.”

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