Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf visited a construction site in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas on a windswept day last month and repeated a Trump administration pledge.
“We are on track to build 450 to 500 miles of new wall by the end of 2020,” he told reporters. Behind him, steel panels atop a concrete levee wall, 30 feet in all, are rising from the sugar cane fields and bird sanctuaries of the valley — which is really a river delta. They are the first section of new border wall built under President Trump where there was no barrier before.
But that swaggering Washington confidence is not shared down on the border. Asked about Trump’s Election Day deadline, Carmen Qualia, an assistant chief with the Border Patrol, acknowledged it’s slow going.
“[Trump] said, ‘Hey, here’s my deadline, here’s what I need you to do.’ So we’re gonna continue to work towards meeting that deadline,” said Qualia, who is in charge of the Rio Grande Valley wall team. “And we’re either going to make it or not.”
Trump gets an additional $1.4 billion toward his massive wall along the 2,000-mile southwest border under a government spending bill he is expected to sign. But in Texas, there’s widespread skepticism the president will have anywhere near the 450 miles of wall he wants by next December. Construction has already fallen behind schedule because of how difficult it is to take private land.
One contract reviewed by NPR, called RGV10, says construction isn’t expected to begin on certain wall segments until March 2021 — well after the election.