The Truth About Donald Trump's Border Wall

On January 13, 2021, President Donald Trump made his first public appearance after the armed insurrection which breached the U.S. Capitol and resulted in the deaths of at least four people, including one police officer. CNN reported that he went to Alamo, Texas, on the U.S. border with Mexico, in order to tout what he called successes in upgrading hundreds of miles of border wall. The hot-button issue both helped Mr. Trump garner support to win the presidency in 2016 and maintain public backing for the other immigration policies he enacted during his term, such as a program that has forced thousands of migrants and asylum seekers to wait out immigration court dates in Mexican border towns. Lawyers and advocates have argued that it puts them in dangerous situations.

During his seemingly endless tour of campaign events in the runup to the 2016 election, Mr. Trump made several promises about the border wall to cheering fans who chanted back, "Build that wall!" One of his most salient promises was that the funding to build it would come from Mexico. To the surprise of few, if any, Mexico did not pay for the wall. U.S. taxpayers supplied around $15 billion (for less than half of the wall he'd promised them). And that's just one of several wall promises he made to the American people that remain unfulfilled at the end of his presidency. Let's take a look at those wall promises just to see how far off the mark they were.

Donald Trump built less than half of the border wall that he said he would

During his campaign, Mr. Trump promised his supporters that he would build 1,000 miles of border wall. In the end, the total came to just 453 miles. But for President Trump, such a failure is an easy fix. According to NBC News, instead of admitting he'd missed the mark by more than half, he just threw in an alternative fact, saying that he'd delivered on his promise of building 450 miles of border wall. (So he built three more miles than he said he'd build. So there's that.) That number was even less than what he'd promised during the 2020 State of the Union Address, when he assured the country he was going to complete "substantially more than 500 miles" of border wall by 2021. We did the math, and 453 is less than substantially more than 500.

The vast majority of the new wall built during Trump's administration didn't extend the barrier between the United States and Mexico. While the president often claimed that he was overseeing the construction of new tracts of wall, most of what was built during his term simply replaced old fencing that was already there. Only 47 miles of wall were built in areas where there was previously no barrier between the countries. If his pattern holds, Mr. Trump might well say that was the plan all along.

Donald Trump's border wall is not as impenetrable as he said it would be

Mr. Trump's vision for the border wall has changed over the years. He claimed that it would be "big" and "beautiful" and "concrete" and that it would be anywhere from 35 to 80 feet tall. According to an NBC News report in 2019, after spending millions of dollars on eight different border wall prototypes, he ended up going with one consisting of steel slats called bollards, rather than his beautiful concrete dream. It was the same type of construction that past administrations had used. Then the Department of Homeland Security gave it a test run with a simple hand saw and found that they were able to cut right through it. In fact, all eight of the prototypes proved to be nowhere near as invulnerable as he'd claimed the wall would be. (In a 2016 video from a campaign event posted by The Washington Post, "impenetrable" was one of several adjectives candidate Trump used to describe the wall he planned to build.)

In reality, the fact that his wall really is penetrable is pretty much the only promise about it Trump has actually kept. As The Daily Beast reported in 2015, he himself said how easily someone could get past his big, beautiful barrier: "Once they get up there, there will be no way to get down," he said, then had a thought. "Well, maybe a rope, but..."