US federal contractors began on Tuesday (Sept. 26) building prototypes of Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico, a key pledge of his presidential campaign.
The construction of eight models, each around nine metres tall, is taking place outside of San Diego, at the end of a steel-mesh border fence that runs from the Pacific Ocean.
The different structures will be tested and help shape the final design of the wall, which the US administration says should stretch for at least 1,000 miles (1,600 km).
“Today marks a significant milestone for the U.S. Border Patrol and Customs Protection in the implementation of the President’s executive order on border security and immigration improvement,” said acting chief border patrol agent Roy Villareal.
Four of the models will be made of concrete and four of other materials, which Villareal did not name.
Trump said on Friday that the wall should be see-through, apparently at odds with the initial instructions for solid concrete.
Villarreal said the concrete designs would be built with openings to allow agents to see across the border.
The prototype phase is expected to last 30 days. Customs and Border Protection may pick several winners, or none.
Trump has insisted Mexico would pay for building the wall, which experts said could cost about $22 billion and take more than three years to complete.
With Mexico refusing to pay, Trump has said since taking office that the wall will initially need US funding, but that he will find a way to make Mexico ultimately pay for it.
Bracing for protests
As agents prepared for the news conference, a Mexican man breached the fence, cut his hand and was arrested.
A green tarp hanging on a chain-link fence blocked views of the construction work. Local authorities have helped set up a “free speech zone” nearby for people to demonstrate.
“We expect that there may be protesting and we are going to do everything to make sure that we provide that opportunity and we maintain civility and lawfulness along the border,” said Villareal.
The US administration already faces several federal lawsuits in San Diego that seek to block the prototypes and plans to replace existing fences in California.
A complaint filed last week by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, mirrors two others by environmental advocacy groups that allege the administration overstepped its authority to speed up construction of the wall.
The administration has not commented directly on the lawsuits. It has issued two waivers since August, the first ones since 2008, on grounds of national security. Both waivers are in California, including one that covers the site of prototype construction.