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EXPLAINED: What is the border wall?

ANTELOPE WELLS, NEW MEXICO - JANUARY 30: A "Normandy"-style border fence and barbed wire stretch along the U.S.-Mexico border on January 30, 2019 in Antelope Wells, New Mexico. Since October, dozens of large groups of 100 or more migrants have crossed the border into the remote "Bootheel" region of southwest New Mexico to seek political asylum. Most of the new arrivals are Central American families and unaccompanied minors. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

EL PASO, Texas ( — The existing line of border barriers was authorized by the United States Congress in 2006 through the Secure Fence Act.  It paved the way for the installation of hundreds of miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The “border wall” is actually a series of vertical barriers that are not a continuous structure. In fact, the southern border stretches almost 2,000 miles, but only around 700 miles are fenced, according to a 2017 GAO report. In addition to that fencing, “CBP has also deployed additional layers of pedestrian fencing behind the primary border fencing, including 37 miles of secondary fencing and 14 miles of tertiary fencing.”

These barriers vary in type, from barbed wire and reinforced steel to the bollard-style fencing that’s used in most areas. According to the Government Accountability Office, 105 miles of the 140-mile border with Mexico in California are walled off by fencing or vehicle barriers. 

In some places, people can walk across the border into Mexico through any of the 27 pedestrian crossings located along the southern border.

As of July 2019, none of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall has been installed. However, the prototypes have been undergoing testing near the Otay Mesa point of entry in Southern California. However, a U.S. government report stated nearly all of the prototypes tested could be breached. 

Like California, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting, Arizona is covered almost entirely by some form of manmade barrier. New Mexico’s 180-mile section of the U.S.-Mexico border is currently sealed mostly just by short vehicle barriers. Replacement fencing was recently constructed in Santa Teresa, New Mexico, near El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. 

Texas is the state with the longest stretch of land bordering Mexico. Despite this fact, 91% of its border doesn’t have manmade barriers. Just 115 miles of the state’s 1,241 miles are fenced.

Yuma Sector

The Yuma Sector stretches 126 miles from the Imperial Sand Dunes in California east to the Yuma-Pima County line. The sector has 107 miles of primary border barrier made of old Vietnam War-era landing mat, expanding seal, vehicle barrier (bollard in sand) or old railroad railing. The rest doesn’t have man-made structures, but there are natural barriers like mountains and hills. The Colorado River also provides a north-to-south barrier in the Yuma Sector. 

Tucson Sector

The Tucson Sector stretches from the Arizona-New Mexico state line west to the Pima County line. The Yuma sector is considered one of the busiest in terms of border apprehensions, and roughly 4,200 agents patrol out of eight stations. The Gila Mountains, a massive mountain range, provides a natural barrier in the eastern part of the sector.

El Paso Sector

The El Paso sector stretches 268 miles from Hudspeth County, Texas, to El Paso County, Texas, and includes all of New Mexico. It has 84.3 miles of primary fencing and 81.6 miles of vehicle fencing. Some areas don’t have barriers at all, and some of that is due to geographical issues that make it physically impossible to place them.

Big Bend Sector

The Big Bend Sector, formerly known as the Marfa Sector, stretches 517 miles from Sierra Blanca to Sanderson, Texas. There are approximately 5 miles of border barriers, consisting of concrete and/or steel bollards. There is no lighting on the border barrier. The Border Patrol has deployed technology throughout the Southwest border for decades. The Big Bend Sector is among the largest in the Southwest.

Rio Grande Valley Sector

According to the U.S. Border Patrol, more than 137,000 illegal crossers have been apprehended and more than 260,000 pounds of marijuana have been seized in the Rio Grande Valley sector in fiscal year 2017. In order to speed up the construction of border barriers in this area, the Trump administration announced in 2018 it would waive 28 environmental laws to clear the way for 17 miles of new barriers.

Building more barriers

Despite the campaign promise to build a wall along the southern U.S. border with Mexico, a federal judge in May 2019 granted a preliminary injunction preventing the Trump administration from redirecting funds to pay for the wall along the border with Mexico. This applies specifically to money the administration wanted to use from other agencies for construction. It also limits any future wall construction projects in El Paso, Texas and Yuma, Arizona. The following month, another federal judge blocked the Trump Administration from setting aside $2.5 billion from the U.S. Department of Defense for wall construction in Arizona, California and New Mexico.

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