Tom Crouser: How's the wall going? (Opinion)

While half of us are fixated on the incessant impeachment inquiry and the other half are fixated on avoiding the incessant impeachment inquiry, my thoughts turned to the wall. Yes, that wall. The one being built on our southern border. How’s that going? Here’s what I found.

In September, President Trump visited the Otay Mesa part of south San Diego where he described the new border wall as “amazing.” He even encouraged reporters to get close-up pictures of the bollards. Those are the long slat-like steel barriers filled with concrete, which hang from a beam running atop the wall and then are only connected again at the base. That way agents may see what’s on the other side.

These bollards are also designed to absorb heat, making the surface hot to the touch to discourage climbing.

Fast forward 45 days and, on Nov. 2, The Washington Post reported that Mexican smugglers were sawing through the bottom of the bollards of the new wall with cordless reciprocating saws equipped with diamond and tungsten carbide blades. Both are available at a Home Depot for about $100.

Once the bottom of the bollard is cut, it dangles from the top beam and may be pushed aside creating an opening large enough for a person to pass through, according to U.S. agents.

Smugglers then apparently return the bollards to their original position in order to hide the breaches and for possible use later. So, agents must not only more carefully inspect them, but they must spend time testing by kicking the suspected breached bollards.

Of course, breached bollards are immediately welded when found. But smugglers often attack these same spots again because the weld is softer than the original metal, and the concrete core is already compromised. Some smugglers even apply a type of putty that’s similar in color and texture to a weld to make the severed bollard appear intact.

And there are other ways to defeat the wall. Makeshift ladders of rebar have been used to scale the Mexican side, and then a rope ladder is dropped to descend the US side. This is particularly popular in the San Diego area.

Then, last Thursday, acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan confirmed that of all the border wall construction that has occurred to date has been to replace existing barriers.

No new barriers have been yet constructed. However, the next portion of wall will be in Texas on land that did not previously have an existing barrier.

That brings up another issue. The administration has acquired only 16 percent of the private land in Texas it needs, thus putting in doubt the president’s promise to complete nearly 500 miles of new barriers before 2021.

Of the 166 Texas miles to be built, only four miles are on existing government property. The rest must be purchased from land owners and, although it has yet to be deployed, the lengthy eminent domain process will undoubtedly be needed and could take years.

As for funding, the administration has found nearly $10 billion since 2017. Of that, $3.6 billion has been diverted from military construction and $2.5 billion has come from counternarcotic projects. However, an El Paso federal court recently ruled that the diversion was unlawful. So, that will have to play out in the courts.

In total, 78 miles of barriers have replaced existing barriers and they haven’t proven to be “virtually impenetrable.” A total of 158 barrier miles are under construction, and another 276 miles are in a “pre-construction phase” along the 1,954-mile border.

As for the president, when told smugglers were cutting through the new border sections on Nov. 3, he appeared un-surprised. “We have a very powerful wall,” he said. “But no matter how powerful, you can cut through anything, in all fairness.”

That seems to be a reversal of the “virtually impenetrable” comment he stated only 45 days before.

Tom Crouser is a business consultant living in Mink Shoals and a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist. Reach him at or follow @TomCrouser on Twitter.