Eight imposing pieces of wall -- each up to 30 feet high -- sit just feet away from the corrugated steel fence that currently acts as the dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico in the San Diego sector of the border.
These are the prototypes for what could be a potential border wall, if President Donald Trump’s campaign promise is to become reality. Six companies were chosen to build the eight different wall portions – two of them are building two prototypes — which are scheduled to be completed by October 26.
But details of the components of these prototypes remain tightly sealed and only available to those intimately involved in the process.
As of publication, only one construction company responded to requests for comment on the designs. Arizona-based firm Fisher Sand and Gravel said via a spokesman that they’re “proud” to have been chosen by the government for the project but said their contract prohibits them from discussing details of their design.
Even US Customs and Border Patrol agents we spoke to who work the San Diego sector know only as much as their own eyes can tell them.
“That first one…the third one, and the fifth one—it’s pretty obvious that it’s steel that they’re using,” agent Eduardo Olmos said, pointing to the giant slabs baking in the southern California heat.
A few appear to the naked eye to be just solid concrete, while others have a mixture of materials. One of them has razor sharp steel barbs lining the top.
Officials have said that if and when new sections of an actual border wall are green-lit, it could be built with one of these prototypes or a combination of a few to be used as a template.
Once complete, border agents said the walls will go through a round of evaluation.
“[Criteria like the ability to be] anti-climbing, anti-breaching, anti-scaling. For the wall to be safe for patrol agents who work in the area, and also to be aesthetically pleasing.”
Aesthetics were something that seemed key to President Donald Trump when he spoke about the wall prototypes at a rally in Alabama last month.
“To be honest with you, a see through wall will look better,” President Trump said. “It has to be a see-through wall.”
Six of the eight prototypes appeared to be complete as of this writing, and only one of them appeared to have any element of transparency. It’s a design positioned in the middle of the field of prototypes and is one in which the lower half contains a series of bollards spaced out, creating about six inches of visible space between each pillar. Design firms, though, may continue work on their prototypes until the 26th.
Border agents we spoke to could not comment on the apparent disconnect between the President’s vision and the physical masses rising from the dirt.
“Well, this is not the finished product, so once we have that we can talk more about that,” agent Eduardo Olmos said.
President Trump took to Twitter Tuesday to tout the progress of the prototypes, writing: “BORDER WALL prototypes underway!”
He included a short video of the construction site but did not make any reference to the walls’ appearance or specifics.
Customs and Border officials also said that even if the wall itself is not see through, it does not mean that some element of transparency could be not achieved through a system of cameras and sensors.
The President said that the wall must be see-through because drug cartels have been known to throw “sacks of drugs” over the wall.
“They take drugs—literally—and they throw it, 100 pounds of drugs, and they throw it over the wall. They have catapults.”
He said the concern would be those bags hitting someone, like a border agent, on the head.
Agents we spoke to could not get into specifics regarding how often something like what the President described as happening aside from saying it is “rare.”
Border agents stressed that any physical addition along the border would always be just one component of an overall border security strategy.
“We have manpower, infrastructure, stadium lighting,” Olmos said. “If you’re looking at the wall to resolve our problem, then that would be the wrong way of looking at it. The wall is just going to help us do our job better and more efficient.”
While debate continues over who would foot the bill for any new wall that may be built along the border, funds for the prototype walls came from reallocations within the Department or Homeland Security’s budget. They cost between $300,000 and $500,000 each.
The President said he plans to inspect the walls personally then choose one himself.