President Trump on Tuesday will travel to Texas to visit the wall at the southern border, and tout his administration’s accomplishment in building more than 450 miles since he took office – an attempt to move attention away from the controversy related to last week’s riot in the Capitol.
Trump will be visiting Alamo, Texas, near the Rio Grande Valley and on the U.S.-Mexico border. The Rio Grande has been one of the main targets for wall construction, which Trump promised to make a key part of his presidency in 2016.
The administration announced last week that it had reached the goal of building 450 miles by the end of 2020, and that another 350 miles are funded and beginning construction. At the beginning of January 2020, only 100 miles had been built.
While critics have noted that much of the construction replaces structure that was always there, officials have said that there is no comparison between the old landing mat-style structure that could easily be climbed or pushed over, and the new 30-foot steel bollards – complete with anti-climb tech, cameras, lighting and roads.
The visit also offers Trump an opportunity to draw attention away from the growing controversy related to the riots last week at the Capitol building. Five people, including a police officer, died during the violence after a crowd of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol after attending a rally outside the White House.
Democrats are moving forward with impeachment, while a number of Trump officials have resigned. One of those officials, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, would normally have been on a trip to the border wall and has been a central figure in the administration’s immigration and border policies.
A source from DHS front office said Wolf stepping down was explicitly not a protest resignation. However, a source close to Wolf told Fox News the Capitol riots factored into his decision.
The wall marks part of a machinery of policies and efforts to curb illegal immigration at the border. The wall, along with those policies, faced a number of hurdles in both Congress and in the courts.
The administration faced a border crisis in 2019 that saw more than 100,000 migrants crossing the border a month in the spring of 2019. Since then, it has not only built more wall, but brought in policies such as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP) that the administration said has ended the incentives bringing migrants north.
The wall faces an uncertain future as of next week, when President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated. Biden has promised that “not another foot” of wall will be built in his administration.
Trump officials and others, however, have warned that that could be a costly endeavor. Acting Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan said on a call last week with reporters that it could cost taxpayers “billions” and thousands of jobs.
“It’ll cost taxpayers billions of dollars, billions of dollars in settlement fees,” he said. “We’re going to walk away from areas of the wall that have already been constructed.”
“There are going to be some areas where, let’s say we’ve already started to dig a trench and put some rebar in there, we’re actually going to have to stop and pay extra to have them remove the rebar and fill in the trench,” he said.
He added that there is another 270,000 tons of steel bollards that have either been produced or are being produced.
“We’re either going to have to pay them additional money on top of the money we’ve paid for the materials to either destroy what we paid them for already or to store it,” he said.
Other estimates have challenged Morgan’s claim. The Washington Post reported that it could actually save money – approximately $2.6 billion – according to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates.
U.S. Army Corps estimates show there will be about $3.3 billion in unused funds in the project’s accounts on Jan. 21. “Demobilization” fees that could be charged to the government once contracts are canceled would be approximately $700 million.
More broadly, the administration has warned that taking a dramatic turn away from the tougher policies at the border will lead to a surge in migrants.
“That’s not an immigration strategy. That’s an open border strategy. And the cartels and human smugglers are already exploiting that in,” Morgan said on “Mornings with Maria.” “The numbers are already going up because immigrants are being told the borders on January 20th are going to be open once again.”
The Biden transition team appears to be acknowledging the risk of a border surge, and has recently warned that some of its proposals won’t happen overnight and will take time.
“Processing capacity at the border is not like a light that you can just switch on and off,” incoming domestic policy adviser Susan Rice told Spanish wire service EFE recently. “Migrants and asylum seekers absolutely should not believe those in the region peddling the idea that the border will suddenly be fully open to process everyone on Day 1. It will not.”
Fox News’ Jake Gibson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.