Senate Democrats are once again threatening to block funding for President Donald Trump’s border wall as the federal government’s Sept. 30 funding deadline slowly approaches.
“[W]e are once again concerned with the President’s Fiscal Year 2018 request for a very expensive, ineffective new wall along the southern border with Mexico and new funding for the Department of Homeland Security to hire a ‘deportation force’ and increase detention beds,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and top Democrats of the Appropriations Committee wrote to their Republican counterparts last Monday.
The letter signals that Democrats are willing to pull out all the stops to prevent Trump from making any measurable progress on his signature campaign issue: a physical wall across the length of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The president’s first go at appropriating funding to begin construction of the wall was largely unsuccessful when he was forced in April to withdraw his demand for $1 billion in construction funding in a short-term spending bill.
However, the Department of Homeland Security was able to reassign $20 million to fund prototypes for the border wall.
Ronald D. Vitiello, acting deputy commissioner for Customs and Border Protection, said last Tuesday that construction of prototypes will begin this summer in the San Diego area.
“We own that land, have access to it and it’s a good place to start testing in a real-world environment,” Vitiello told reporters at a news conference.
The Trump administration said it has received hundreds of bids for wall prototypes after issuing two design requests in March: one for a wall constructed with concrete and another using other materials.
Customs and Border Protection requested vendors to submit designs to make it essentially impossible for a person to climb the wall with or without a ladder.
Vendors were also required to include features that “prevent digging or tunneling below it for a minimum of six feet below the lowest adjacent grade,” to address concerns that drug cartels will bypass the wall by digging under it.
Officials also asked vendors to submit designs that are somewhat aesthetically pleasing.
Officials plan to build four to eight prototypes along existing border walls in San Diego later this summer. The Department of Homeland Security plans to test the designs in real time to determine which walls are most effective in helping Border Patrol agents respond to drug traffickers and human traffickers.
Vitiello told reporters Tuesday his agency hoped to complete prototype construction by the “end of summer.”
Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said the agency plans to build a wall along most of the 1,900 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. About 130 miles of the border have been determined unsuitable for a border wall because of water or challenging terrain.
Since a design has yet to be chosen for the border wall, it’s unclear how much the barrier will cost.
The Department of Homeland Security reportedly estimates the wall will cost about $21.6 billion, not including maintenance.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell estimated recently the wall would cost $15 billion.
Senate Democrats say Republicans are low-balling their cost estimates. They estimate the barrier will cost about $70 billion to construct, with an added $150 million a year in maintenance.
Vitiello expressed confidence that the Trump administration will make headway on the wall despite the looming congressional budget fight in September.
“We’re confident in all the things we’re going to do in ’17, and our request for ’18 reflects what we think we can accomplish,” Vitiello said. “As we go forward, we’re going to continue to iterate the model to tell us what will happen in the coming years.”
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