Want a status report on Donald Trump’s border wall?
The short answer is in San Diego where there’s now a row of eight nine-metre tall concrete and steel monoliths — wall prototypes — set into the soil just steps from the U.S.-Mexican border.
Each awaits testing and, ultimately, official word on which style could one day become the president’s “big, beautiful wall.”
That is, if it ever actually comes to pass.
Trump’s key campaign pledge was a big factor in his winning the White House but a year later those prototypes in San Diego are as far as it’s gone.
Meanwhile, Americans who oppose the wall are entrenching.
And in Texas, the state with the longest Mexican borderline, a status report on Trump’s wall is somewhat more complicated.
‘Over my dead body’
At the ranch of Bill Addington, east of El Paso, building a wall “will come over my dead body,” he says.
Addington’s property is an hour’s drive down a dirt road straight south from the state’s southern-most highway. The Mexican border is then about an hour’s hike through scrub and swampland past the end of that dirt road.
His family has ranched there for generations and Addington underlines he doesn’t want a wall, doesn’t need a wall and will fight a wall if the government ever tries to build one through his land.
Addington has friends on the Mexican side and says no one over there has ever bothered him.
“It really does break my heart in that Americans have come so far as to be so much in fear of some of them and hate against people that have been our neighbours here.”
It’s a feeling echoed in El Paso, a busy border city with a vibrant and centuries-old Hispanic population.
El Paso is one of many locations along the border where there is already a fence in place, put there during the George W. Bush presidency. While not as imposing as those prototypes in San Diego, for many it has become a symbol of intolerance.
At a section of fencing just outside town, a U.S. border patrol helicopter buzzed overhead as human rights activist Fernando Garcia chatted with a group of Mexican children squeezing their faces into slats in the barrier, peering into the U.S.
‘The essence of these walls’
“When Trump leaves office, we’re going to tear down this wall,” they said, in Spanish. “And people will be able to go across.”
Garcia shrugged as he listened.
Emphasizing that the smuggling of drugs and other contraband happens mostly at regular border crossings, Garcia reinforced Addington’s opinion on what’s really driving Trump’s wall.
“We’re talking about hate,” he said. “Race and xenophobia. That’s what is the essence of these walls.”
Garcia warns that as the Hispanic population in Texas grows, as it is quickly doing, so will its political clout. He said Trump’s wall may appease some voters but “I don’t have any doubt that Latinos are going to be more active politically.”
“I do believe there’s going to be a major backlash here, a political backlash.”
Then there’s the matter of geography.
Along with the all-but-impassable terrain at Addington’s ranch, the border is rife with long stretches of cliffs and deep valleys.
Walk right through
Many have argued that for the billions of dollars the wall would cost, there’d often be no gain from it.
In fact, the fencing erected in the Bush years is typically only in locations deemed likely to face illegal crossings.
One result is that in such places, that fencing often comes to an abrupt end and can be walked around or through. It also rarely sits precisely on the border, instead being simply put near it.
It cuts through private property, with gaps left in it to allow farmers easy access to their own land.
Border patrol agents keep careful watch aided by security cameras but such gaps can seem bizarre. It’s a wall through which seemingly anyone can cross.
At Eagle Pass, Texas, a section of the Bush wall sits far enough north of the border that it’s left a local golf course on the American side of the border but on the Mexican side of the fence.
And it’s here you’ll find Americans who want — and are still waiting for — a wall that runs solidly coast to coast.
Who’s in the country?
While lining up a putt, Jere Rhodes said a key issue with those who come in illegally is that the U.S. then has no idea who’s in the country.
“They could be a murderer, a drug dealer, a kidnapper. They could be anything,” he said.
“I mean it’s just stupid not to know who’s coming across the border. It’s stupid. You’re a stupid country if you let that happen.”
Indeed, at Roma, Texas, where a narrow stretch of the Rio Grande River marks the border and where there is no wall of any kind, border patrol agents catch and detain people crossing illegally daily.
Even as CBC News happened to be watching, the agents found two men hiding amid thick reeds at the river’s edge. They were the 11th and 12th found there just that morning, in their own way helping make the case for Trump’s wall in a state — and country — divided on it.