Zinke: Wall along U. S.- Mexico border faces geographic challenges
Geographic and physical challenges — including the Rio Grande and threatened wildlife— will make it difficult to build the “big, beautiful wall” that President Donald Trump has promised on the U. S.- Mexico border, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Wednesday.
Building a wall “is complex in some areas,” including Big Bend National Park and along the river, which twists through nearly half of the 2,000- mile border, Zinke said.
Hundreds of species live within 30 miles of the border, including threatened jaguars and Mexican gray wolves. The Trump administration is poised to relax protections for the jaguars, which live in northern Mexico and parts of the southwestern United States, to make it easier to build the wall.
Throughout the campaign, Trump energized his crowds with his insistence that a wall will be constructed along the border and that Mexico will pay for it. Zinke’s comments, and the administration’s budget proposal seeking billions in U. S. taxpayer dollars to finance the project, offer a reality check and a possible sign the president is moving away from his initial plan.
The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for the border wall, but Zinke said the Interior Department will play a critical support role.
“At the end of the day what’s important is American security and to make sure we have a border,” Zinke told reporters on a conference call. “Without a border a nation cannot exist.”
An internal report prepared for Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly estimated that awall along the entire border would cost about $ 21 billion. Congressional Republicans have estimated a more moderate price tag of $ 12 billion to $ 15 billion.
Zinke’s comments appeared to bolster that view and followed remarks he made Tuesday to the Public Lands Council, a group that represents Western ranchers.
“The border is complicated, as far as building a physical wall,” Zinke said in remarks first reported by E& E News. “The Rio Grande, what side of the river are you going to put thewall? 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.”
Electronic monitors may be more appropriate in that region, Zinke said.
The border is already dottedwith underground sensors and camera towers, along with about 700 miles of fencing in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, and it’s unclear how much new fencing the Trump administration is proposing.
According to new budget details sent to Congress, the administration wants immediate funding to complete an existing barrier in the Rio Grande Valley, $ 500 million to complete 28 miles of a border levee wall near McAllen, Texas, and $ 350 million for construction along two segments near San Diego.
Tourists pose for photos in Santa Elena Canyon near a cliff face that is inMexico, on the banks of the Rio Grande river in Big Bend National Park in Texas. Here the Rio Grande slides between two sheer cliff faces, one inMexico and one in the United States, that tower 1,500 feet above the water. Rodrigo Abd, The Associated Press