Border, Mexico Brace For President Trump's Wall Mandate

By Jorge Valencia, Michel Marizco
January 26, 2017

President Donald Trump’s executive order to build a border wall that he signed Wednesday was vague on the details of how it would be built or if it would replace the massive border fences that already exist.

But a new government call for ideas that was filed just before he took office may offer a clue into how the wall would go up.

Among other details, the president promised to hire 5,000 new federal border officers and to triple the number of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. But first he promised to build a wall.

"The Secretary of Homeland Security working with myself and my staff will begin immediate construction wall of a border wall," Trump said to applause.

He didn’t specify what the wall would look like. Already, about 650 miles of a mix of pedestrian wall, bollard-style fencing and vehicle barrier run the length of the entire border.

But two days before Trump took office last week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection put out the call for ideas for an elaborate system of towers to run along a broad swath of both the northern and southern borders to help spot incursions. A smaller version of the tower network called Remote Video Surveillance System towers already operates in southern Arizona.

Nogales, Ariz., mayor John Doyle argued the existing towers are far more effective than a new wall could be.

"As far as the wall goes on its own, it’s really going to be more of an eyesore," he said.

Doyle worries the president will isolate his city as tensions grow with Mexico.

"All that area, there’s millions of people that are benefiting from being neighbors to Mexico," Doyle said. "We don’t want to mess up that relationship."

Not everyone feels that way about Trump's wall.

Jim Chilton is a rancher in southern Arizona and part of his ranch "is the southern end is the international boundary," as he described it.

Chilton’s ranch is separated from Mexico by barbed wire and a crooked vehicle barrier. So when Trump made the wall a cornerstone of his campaign:

"I was elated. That’s exactly what we need. I’ve been discussing that for the last four or five years," Chilton said.

For Chilton, Trump’s promise of a wall was no metaphor.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, people here have been watching. First, as candidate Trump promised to build a wall. Then, as he was elected. And after he signed his orders, many wanted to know President Enrique Pena Nieto’s response.

Speaking on a live broadcast, Wednesday night, Peña Nieto said that 50 consular offices in the U.S. will protect the rights of migrants.

In the three minutes of televised remarks, the president also said that "Mexico gives respect and demands respect."

That’s about as close as Peña Nieto got to answering the question. In his own remarks, Trump had sought to portray the aggressive overture of the wall as a form of collaboration.

"This will also help Mexico by deterring illegal immigration from Central America and by disrupting violent cartel networks," said Jose Fernandez Santillan, a political scientist at Monterrey Tech in Mexico City.

Santillan said a wall along the 2,000 mile border won’t achieve Trump’s stated goals.

For example, he said, migrants can travel by water. Or drug traffickers can imitate what drug Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán did for years.

"Do you remember The Chapo? The Chapo dig at least 146 tunnels through the border,” Santillan said.

One of Santillan’s students reflected many people’s visceral reaction to the U.S.’ plan for a wall.

Jelga Jauregui said she’s not worried as much about who will pay $10 billion for the wall, as she is about what it represents.

"It’s more like this ideological thing saying that we don’t want you anymore with a basis of segregation and marginalization and why not discrimination,” Jauregui said.

Jauregui said she grew up vacationing in New York, Washington and Houston, but that she doesn’t feel welcome to visit again.