Lone Star State has 1,254 miles of border – but only 100 miles of fence

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Seth Rob­bins

Texas has a 1,254-mile border with Mex­ico and about 100 miles of wall. Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in­sist they’ll com­plete it.

Brownsville, Texas» Close to the southern tip of Texas, a border wall sud­denly ends. Its fi­nal post sits in a dry corn­field half a mile from the near­est bend in the Rio Grande river, the ac­tual border with Mex­ico.

It would be easy to walk around it. Tires left by the border pa­trol rest nearby. Agents drag them be­hind trucks to smooth the cracked earth and check for foot­prints.

Un­like other fa­mous bar­ri­ers in history such as the Berlin Wall or the Great Wall of China, the U.S. version is not much of a wall. What ex­ists in Texas are frag­mented se­ries of fenc­ing, com­posed of enor­mous steel bars em­bed­ded in con­crete close to­gether. The rust-col­ored thick bars that must reach a height of 18 feet loom over the land­scape, forming teeth-like slats that split farm­land, slice through back­yards, and sever parks and na­ture pre­serves.

There are miles of gaps be­tween seg­ments and open­ings in the fence it­self. As a re­sult of the Se­cure Fence Act passed in 2006, the gov­ern­ment built some 650 miles of wall along the 1,954-mile U.S.-Mex­ico bound­ary. While 1,254 miles of that border is in Texas, the state has only some 100 miles of wall.

Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in­sist they’ll fin­ish it. But com­plet­ing the Texas part of the wall would be a daunt­ing task thanks to the border’s sheer length, the fact

that it sits in the cen­ter of the snaking Rio Grande, and be­cause treaties with Mex­ico pre­vent ei­ther coun­try from con­struct­ing within the river’s flood plain. And un­like in other South­west­ern states, most border land in Texas is pri­vately owned.

Fin­ish­ing some 1,300 miles of border fenc­ing also would be costly.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2009 gov­ern­ment ac­count­abil­ity re­port, pedes­trian fenc­ing, meant to keep out smug­glers and mi­grants cross­ing on foot, has run from $400,000 to $15.1 mil­lion per mile, av­er­ag­ing $3.9 mil­lion.

More re­cent con­struc­tion has been even more ex­pen­sive, with seg­ments con­structed in 2008 cost­ing $6.5 mil­lion per mile. If kept at this rate, the wall would cost nearly $10 bil­lion to com­plete just for ma­te­ri­als, and chal­leng­ing geography could bring it much higher.

“With ev­ery twist and turn of the Rio Grande and ev­ery steep ter­rain in Ari­zona, it would cost eas­ily that much,” said Adam Isac­son, a border ex­pert for the Wash­ing­ton Of­fice on Latin Amer­ica.

Of­fi­cials over­see­ing the wall’s con­struc­tion faced a le­gal and lo­gis­ti­cal night­mare from the start, ac­cord­ing to e-mails ob­tained un­der the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act and lit­i­ga­tion by Denise Gil­man, a law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Texas.

The hun­dreds of e-mails, which Gil­man shared with The As­so­ci­ated Press, show that from the plan­ning phase some 65 miles of the pro­posed route sat a half mile to a mile from the border, making it not a true border wall.

Of­fi­cials strug­gled to find places where con­struc­tion could start fast to meet Congress’ dead­line of build­ing 255 miles by De­cem­ber 2008. They sought con­tin­gency fenc­ing that did not re­quire “sig­nif­i­cant real es­tate ac­qui­si­tions” or cut through sen­si­tive wilder­ness, the e-mails show. Wealthy landown­ers de­manded more com­pen­sa­tion or re­fused to al­low con­struc­tion.

Hun­dreds of property own­ers were sued just to build the ex­ist­ing chunks of wall.

Some 400 re­lin­quished prop­er­ties rang­ing in size from a drive­way to com­mer­cial lots and farms, cost­ing the gov­ern­ment at least $15 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to an AP re­view of land cases in 2012.

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