Photos: The Evolution Of The US/Mexico Border Over the Past 100 Years

During Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, one of his major promises was to build a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico. One of the biggest sticking points is the cost of the wall. According to Senate leader Republican Mitch McConnell, the wall could cost between $12 billion and $15 billion to build. Or even more.

A Lot Of Ground To Cover

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JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S.-Mexico border is approximately 2,000 miles long and spans four states. More than half of the border includes the Colorado River and the Rio Grande.

To put the cost in perspective, the Berlin wall was just 96 miles long and cost $25 million to build in 1961.

Trump: “The Wall’s Going To Get Built, Folks”

Trump: “The Wall’s Going To Get Built, Folks”

Photo: The Mexicali border station in 1929

Over 100 days into his presidency, Trump is still intent on building the wall. But it looks like it will be even more expensive than originally thought. White House press secretary Sean Spicer explained in April that the President is intent on having Mexico pay for construction, which is estimated at a whopping $21.6 billion.

For the record, Mexico has vowed never to foot the bill, and it’s looking more like the American people may be stuck paying the tab. But Trump is not backing down. On April 25, 2017 he said, “The wall’s going to get built, folks.”

The First Border Patrol

The First Border Patrol

Tightening security along the U.S. and Mexico border has been an ongoing crusade for a century. Various American presidential administrations have worked to try and keep people out of the United States unless they lawfully enter the country. A divide between the two countries was formally delineated in 1824.

However, the first Border Patrol wasn’t established until 100 years later in 1924. This was followed by inspection and holding stations. Over the next few decades, the United States built fences and barbed wire and steel barriers to keep U.S. citizens and Mexican citizens separate. And the crusade continues to this day.

Secure Fence Act of 2006

Secure Fence Act of 2006

This 1937 photo from the Library of Congress shows a border patrol agent inspecting the belongings of people leaving Juarez, Mexico, and traveling to El Paso, Texas. The practice of inspecting people’s bags and suitcases continues to be common practice today.

The Bush Administration passed the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which resulted in 670 miles of fencing built on the U.S./Mexico border. It cost about $2.4 billion to construct a fence on approximately one-third of the border. And experts have pointed out that the fence was constructed in some of the easier and less costly sections of the border.

Increasing Hostility Towards Immigrants

Increasing Hostility Towards Immigrants

In another photo from 1937, a woman passes into the United States legally by using a turnstile. Attitudes towards Mexican immigrant workers turned increasingly hostile during the Great Depression. In an effort to quell immigration, the United States launched a repatriation program in 1930 in which Mexican immigrants were offered free train rides back to their country. In this time period, hundreds of thousands of Mexican immigrants, particularly farm workers, were deported.

Ronald Vitiello, deputy chief of border patrol for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, noted at a Senate Committee hearing in May 2015 that building a border wall had been “a lot more expensive than we expected when we started, and it was much more difficult.”

Immigration Reform Plan

Immigration Reform Plan

This photo from 1948 shows two border patrol agents carrying firearms and confronting a group of undocumented immigrants attempting to cross into the United States via a river.

While campaigning for president, Trump developed an immigration reform plan that included a controversial idea: impounding remittance payments from illegal immigrant wages. He also proposed higher visa and entry fees to the United States from Mexico until the Latin American country agrees to pay for the wall (something Mexico refuses to do). Trump also hoped to finance the wall by “pushing border taxes more broadly against trading partners,” according to CNBC.

The US Deports 4 Million Illegal Immigrants

The US Deports 4 Million Illegal Immigrants

Not everyone struggled to cross the U.S./Mexico border. Those traveling south from the United States didn’t meet as many challenges. In this 1950 photo, a group of Sigma Pi sorority girls crossed into Tijuana from Calexico, California. Following WWII, illegal immigration to the United States increased. As a result, in 1954 the U.S. government launched an initiative that resulted in the deportation of 4 million Mexican immigrants.

A Government Accountability Office 2009 report points out that the cost to build just 1 mile of fencing at the U.S./Mexico border averaged between $2.8 million and $3.9 million.

Immigration And Nationality Act

Immigration And Nationality Act

This photo from the 1960s shows a group of women passing through customs. In 1965, Congress passed the Immigration and Nationality Act. The act ended caps on the number of immigrants who were allowed into the United States from a particular country. The act’s intention was to bring skilled labor to the United States as well as reunite immigrant families.

This act increased the number of immigrants entering the United States and changed the ethnic makeup of the country. Over the next 20 years, legal immigration jumped a whopping 60 percent. Many of the immigrants originated from Latin America.

Obstacles To Building A Wall

Obstacles To Building A Wall

In 1971, Friendship Park was created in San Diego-Tijuana. It was intended to be a bi-national park separated by wire fencing at the U.S./Mexico border. It was closed in 2009 and reopened in 2012 after additional steel fencing was constructed at the border.

According to Marc Rosenblum, deputy director of the U.S. Immigration Policy Program at the Migration Policy Institute, much of the wall was built as part of the Secure Fence of 2006, which was near cities and on public lands. However, completing a border wall will require the government to take land away from private holders. One section near San Diego cost $16 million to build.

Drug Concerns

Drug Concerns

In the 1990s, Americans became increasingly concerned that drug dealers were crossing into the United States from Mexico. Americans didn’t want their children and families to be exposed to such dangerous people and drugs. As a result, the first National Border Patrol Strategic Plan was established in 1994. The initiative included more severe punishments for undocumented immigrants who tried to illegally cross into the United States from Mexico.

Just five years later, the U.S. Border Patrol confiscated an alarming amount of drugs and money (11,249 pounds of cocaine, 168,000 pounds of marijuana, and $13.2 million in currency, according to CNBC).

Technology At The Border

Technology At The Border

In the early 1990s, the United States government added 8-10-foot corrugated steel walls to its border. By the late ’90s, border patrol inspection stations added an automated program known as SENTRI for people who were pre-screened to make the crossing process quicker.

According to President Trump’s Department of Homeland Security chief, John Kelly, a “physical barrier will not do the job.” He explained in recent Senate testimony that it’s only one part of the big picture: “If you build a wall, you would still have to back that wall up with patrolling by human beings, by sensors, by observation devices.”

$16 Million Per Mile To Build The Wall

$16 Million Per Mile To Build The Wall

This photo from 2000 shows a border crossing where special polling stations were erected to allow Mexican voters living in the United States or waiting to cross the border to vote in the Mexican presidential election.

There are still approximately 1,300 miles that don’t have a border wall. It could cost as much as $16 million per mile to build a wall. The parts that don’t yet have a border are the most difficult because the land is dense and arid. The total price to complete the wall could be anywhere from $15 billion to $25 billion. Maintenance of the wall and acquiring private land could push the cost even higher.

Long Waits To Enter The United States

Long Waits To Enter The United States

Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, border patrol agents dramatically increased security checks at border crossings. In some cases, pedestrians and vehicles had up to a 6-hour wait to enter the United States.

One of the issues of building more on the border will be maintaining, repairing and replacing outdated and aging infrastructure. If and when a border wall is completed between the United States and Mexico, yearly maintenance costs could top $750 million, according to Politico. That figure doesn’t include personnel. Currently, there are 21,000 border patrol agents with an operating budget of $1.4 billion. More wall plus more people equals more expense.

Going To Extremes

Going To Extremes

In this 2003 photo, U.S. border agents found a little boy, who was sleeping, hidden inside the dashboard of a car coming from Mexico. Often, illegal immigrants try to cross into the United States secretly. They take risks and break the law in order to seek a better life over the border.

President Trump’s website does not list official figures about the cost of building a wall, but notes: “The cost of building a permanent border wall pales mightily in comparison to what American taxpayers spend every single year on dealing with the fallout of illegal immigration on their communities, schools and unemployment offices.”

Minuteman Project

Minuteman Project

This photo from 2005 shows immigrants detained by border officials in Arizona after illegally trying to cross the border.

In the early 2000s, many Americans were getting increasingly upset about undocumented immigration. Some decided to do something about it. In 2005, over 1,000 people formed the Minuteman Project. The civilian volunteers (which included a lot of veterans and retirees) spread themselves over a 23-mile section of the Arizona desert to locate illegal immigrants. The group eventually splintered after some members were arrested on murder and sex abuse charges. However, there are still several different factions that continue to regularly patrol the area.

Creative Ways To Cross Into The United States

Creative Ways To Cross Into The United States

Some undocumented immigrants came up with some very clever ways to get into the United States. This 2006 photo shows an elaborate tunnel built to smuggle drugs and people into the country. Police discovered the 2,400-foot-long tunnel equipped with lighting, ventilation, and equipment that was made to pump out ground water.

Only 100 miles of the 650 miles of fence from the Secure Fence Act have been built in Texas, which has the longest border with Mexico than any other state. There are several engineering and legal obstacles, including rough terrain and private land ownership, that are making building the wall difficult.

Thousands Of Deaths

Thousands Of Deaths

This 2006 photo shows people from the humanitarian group No More Deaths searching for immigrants, not to arrest them but to help them. Over 2,650 men, women, and children died while attempting to cross the border between 1998 and 2006.

Many migrants are arrested in Rio Grand Valley, the southernmost point of Texas. In that area, an 18-foot-tall metal fence stands in neighborhoods and farmland. Under the Secure Fence Act, the Justice Department has filed 400 claims against landowners to seize private property. However, the government has not built on all of the land that it has claimed.

Dangerous Passage

Dangerous Passage

This 2013 photo shows immigrants trying to cross into the United States by hitching a ride on top of a train. It proves that undocumented immigrants are willing to risk their lives to cross the border. Many immigrants face robbery and assault on their journey north.

Ken McKay, a lawyer who represented a family that owned land in Texas taken by the U.S. government said: “It is exceedingly frustrating to the landowner to have to wait nine years to resolve a case and to have the government come in and take possession of it that long before he receives so much as a single dollar.”

Immigration Reform

Immigration Reform

In this 2014 photo, Catholic bishops lead a mass near the U.S./Mexico border in Arizona to pray for immigration reform. That same year, President Obama issued an executive action on immigration reform granting temporary work permits and deportation exemptions to 4 million illegal immigrants.

Meanwhile, if the Trump administration continues to pursue its goal of completing a border wall, they will have to acquire a lot more land from private citizens and entities. Trump is no stranger to eminent domain cases. In the 1990s, one of his casinos in Atlantic City tried to force a homeowner to sell his property in order to build a parking lot.

Arrests Increase For Undocumented Immigrants

Arrests Increase For Undocumented Immigrants

After Trump took office, his administration clamped down on illegal immigration. In 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested a whopping 21,362 immigrants from January through mid-March. This number was a 32 percent increase from the same period in 2016.

And land owners aren’t receiving much money for their properties in Texas where the government intends on building the wall. According to the Chicago Tribune, San Benito resident Rudy Cavazos was paid $7,000 for the less than a half-acre taken from his property. The government also built a fence in an area that they later found out belonged to Cavazos and about 20 other people.