Just days after a cherished mural-bearing section of the former U.S.-Mexico border barrier was christened as Calexico’s newest public art display, similar pomp and circumstance on Oct. 26 heralded its imposing replacement.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen held a press conference with the recently completed 30-foot-high, 2.25-mile structure looming just feet away.
The barrier starts on the west end of the Calexico West Port of Entry and runs west.
While she proclaimed it as a new beginning of border security under President Donald Trump, funding for it was actually appropriated in 2009 under the Obama Administration, according to Jason Castrejon, public affairs officer for the U.S. Border Patrol El Centro Sector. But after the project languished for years, the Trump Administration began construction in early 2018, he added.
“Walls work. It’s not a political statement or my opinion. It’s a fact,” Nielsen told reporters during her remarks.
While termed a “see-through” wall, the structure is a series of closely spaced metal posts. It was completed in September after eight months of construction at a cost of $18 million, or $8 million per mile, Castrejon said.
The prior structure was solid and 18 feet high.
A cherished section of the previous barrier was unveiled in Rockwood Plaza on Oct. 16. It is painted with the “Border Metamorphosis” mural locals say is a testament to the enduring ties between Calexico and its twin Mexican city, Mexicali. The mural was painted on the barrier in a community art project in the late 1990s.
While the former barrier was a slice of pop culture, Border Patrol agents decried it as ineffective, saying it was too low to stop determined crossers and did not allow agents to see lurking perpetrators on its Mexican side.
The narrow openings in the new barrier will allow agents to use surveillance technology to view and assess activity on the Mexican side, including the activities of would-be illegal crossers and smugglers, officials said.
Trump won election in 2016 promising to build a wall on the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border. Among prototypes unveiled in San Diego earlier in 2018 some were solid while others had see-through features.
Before giving her remarks, Nielsen joined two construction workers and placed a plaque on the structure commemorating its completion. She also met with local Border Patrol officials.
Nielson spoke about how a measure known as Operation Gatekeeper aimed at halting illegal immigration in the San Diego area brought more illegal crossing activity to Calexico.
Border Patrol El Centro Sector Chief Gloria Chavez hailed the new structure.
“This new border barrier will bring more Border Patrol officer safety. It will help maintain operations control of this area. It will support a safe and secure border community that will bolster businesses, schools and residents alike,” Chavez said.
“Any investment in our border security strengthens our capabilities on the ground here at the border,” she added.
Nielsen said border security should be a bipartisan issue and asked Congress to do its part.
“Border security is national security and is vital to our mission to protect the nation. I refuse to believe that this is a challenge too complex for this Congress to solve. I call on them to address this issue and have laws that protect the American people,” Nielsen said.
Nielsen was asked about the recent action of the Imperial County Board of Supervisors passing a resolution opposing Trump’s threat to close the border because of a caravan of Central American refugees now in Mexico on their way to seek asylum in the U.S. She said federal Customs and Border Projection takes into consideration the cross-border economy of trade and travel while ensuring the border is secured.
“We don’t want to impede trade and travel. Part of our mission enables that and increases it,” Nielsen said.