The prototypes, which are up to 30-feet tall, towered over the president as he spoke with Border Patrol officials on Tuesday. During his visit, Trump said he favored concrete walls because they were harder to climb, but emphasized the need for it to be see-through, which is generally preferred by agents. “We have a lousy wall over here now, but at least it stops 90, 95 percent,” he said. “When we put up the real wall, we’re going to stop 99 percent. Maybe more than that.”
Today, some 650 miles are already covered by a variation of fencing. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, which authorized 700 miles of double-layer fencing along the southern border. The difficulty of sealing portions of the border then provides a glimpse of what still lies ahead for the Trump administration, and helps explain why the administration isn’t farther along in its goal.
As former governor of Texas, Bush was very familiar with the southern border: Texas and Mexico share nearly 1,300 miles of border. During his tenure as president, Bush expressed his desire to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, though his proposals were different from those of Trump’s, they also included measures to enhance border security. “I would suggest to members of Congress as they debate this issue that they ought to come down and take a look at the border, see what it’s really like. It requires an intense focus of resources and assets in order to secure this border. It also requires a comprehensive strategy, as well,” Bush said in May 2006 during a visit to the headquarters of the Yuma Sector Border Patrol.
The idea was the same—a barrier would prevent, or at least slow down, immigrants trying to enter the country illegally. “Looking at the border, one of the things that became evident is that there was really an insufficient amount of infrastructure at the border to control what was in some ways almost an overwhelming flood of people,” said Michael Chertoff, who served as DHS secretary from 2005 to 2009. Figures from CBP show a steady increase in border apprehensions between 2004 and 2005. The Department of Homeland Security, along with other federal agencies, worked with the White House to devise a border-security plan.
Some areas required personnel and technology to help patrol the border, particularly in areas where rough terrain would make it difficult to erect a physical barrier. The Secure Border Initiative, which DHS announced in 2005, incorporated technology, though it eventually drew criticism from the Government Accountability Office, among others, for the problems it encountered, such as only being able to identify “less than 50 percent of items of interest that cross the border,” according to a GAO report.
“It wasn’t just fencing during the Bush administration. I think people realized at the time you needed to do a multitude of things. And it wasn’t going to be one size fits all,” said James Norton, a former Bush administration official.