Border Militarization

Last Updated: July 27, 2020

The Border Wall

The U.S.-Mexico border spans nearly 2,000 miles, from Brownsville, Texas in the east, to San Diego, CA in the west. The border line passes through mountains, deserts, marshes and other incredibly diverse ecological regions. The border wall is not always built on the international boundary line - at times it is built up to a mile away, cutting people off from their private property, restricting access to parks and protected refuge areas.

As of July 2020, over 700 miles of wall exist dividing the U.S. in Mexico -- covering about 37% of the total length of the border. A total of 654 miles of border wall were built before Trump took office by the Bush and Obama administrations. The state of Arizona had the longest number of pre-Trump border wall construction at a total of 307 miles (including both pedestrian walls and vehicle barriers). California, Texas and New Mexico each had a total of 116 miles of deadly wall before Trump began rapidly and forcefully continuing construction of border walls.

Since Trump took office, an estimated 245 miles of border wall have been constructed and many more are in progress. Some construction is in places where no type of wall or barrier existed before, while others are replacing old pedestrian walls or barriers meant to stop only vehicles from crossing. As of July 10, 2020, approximately 4 miles of new pedestrian wall have been constructed. A majority of new construction (89%) is replacement construction.

Some of the new forms of the deadly wall are made out of steel beams that allow one to see through it, which CBP claims will help “carry out its mission.” But further construction of the wall, especially 30 foot walls, will continue to separate binational communities, threaten wildlife, and damage invaluable environmental resources. This section gives an overview of border wall construction and associated costs, levels of law enforcement in the southern border, and maps the network of checkpoints impacting the lives of southern border communities.

Pedestrian Walls

These walls can measure up to 20 feet and divide urban areas. Many were originally built from steel landing mats, and are now being replaced by steel bollard walls.

Vehicle Barriers

Vehicle barriers are 4 to 6 feet high and block vehicle traffic. There are about 300 miles of this type of barrier in the southern border.


Trump-era walls include the steel ‘bollard-style’ walls, which are made of see-through steel bars.

Wall Funding

Construction of the border wall has already cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars, and the Trump administration has proposed further exorbitant spending for one of the largest infrastructure projects in U.S. history.

In fiscal year 2020, congress authorized $1.375 billion dollars for the construction of an additional 69 miles in the Laredo sector. However, the Trump administration went around Congress and illegally transferred an additional $7.2 billion dollars in 2020 from the Department of Defense and from funds to be used for military construction ($2.5 billion from the Department of Defense; $3.6 billion from the military construction funds) to continue to build the border wall.

In fiscal year 2019, the administration re-appropriated $2.5 billion dollars of funds away from the Department of Defense funds used to support counter-drug activities. SBCC and others took the Trump administration to court and won. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court found that this move was illegal. This ruling underscored that the president’s blatant abuse of power to build the dangerous wall is unlawful.

Cost Estimates

No single estimate exists of the cost-per-mile for construction of the border wall. Varying factors like terrain type, materials used, and whether the land is private, tribal or federally owned contribute to different costs. Still, it is clear that the border wall has already cost taxpayers billions of dollars. The Office of Management and Budget wrote a letter in 2019 estimating that the then-requested $5.7 billion for continued construction of a border wall would fund approximately 234 miles, meaning that each mile could cost an estimated $24.4 million dollars.

A majority of land in the southern border is privately owned or owned by the states, according to a 2015 GAO report. Much of the land around the border in Texas is owned by private individuals - which has led to battles with claims of eminent domain with previous administrations. Similarly, native lands straddle the border, and some tribes have even been split by the international boundary line.

Laws Waived for Wall Construction

Dozens of environmental and cultural laws have been waived and set aside for construction of the border wall. The Real ID Act, which was adopted by Congress in 2005, gives the Department of Homeland Security the authority to waive and ignore local, state and federal laws, regulations and statutes to expedite construction of physical barriers. So far, waivers have been issued 30 times - 5 by the Bush administration and 25 times by the Trump administration.

Over 60 different laws have been pushed aside for wall construction, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act among many others. The chart below shows the top-10 most frequently waived laws for construction of the wall since 2005.

Law Enforcement Personnel in the Southern Border

The southern border region is one of the most militarized regions in the world. Thousands of federal agents patrol the border region with wide impunity, stopping and searching border residents through their extraordinary powers such as the power without warrant. The U.S. Border Patrol in particular has a reputation for violating and disregarding key constitutional protections and rights. Countless cases of abuse have been documented, showcasing the agency’s culture and systemic violation of border resident’s rights.

In fiscal year 2019, there were nearly 17,000 border patrol agents in the southern border region. The Tucson area has by far the largest number of agents deployed, followed by the Rio Grande Valley sector, El paso and San Diego.

The Border Patrol’s main task is patrolling U.S. international borders and deterring and apprehending immigrants entering without proper documentation. Illegal crossings between ports of entry in the southern border peaked around the year 2000, and sharply decreased since then. The table below shows the estimated number of people apprehended per border agent by sector in 2019.

By and large, the data show that agents are disproportionately located throughout border sectors in relation to the number of apprehensions that year. The Big Bend sector, covering the western part of Texas, saw about 18 apprehensions per agent -- while the Rio Grande Valley had more than 100 apprehensions per agent.

The size of the Border Patrol steadily increased since 1992 and plateaued around 2012. Yet as the number of migrants crossing the southern border decreased, the number of agents kept rising.

The Border Patrol has a clear goal of becoming a national police force, most clearly exemplified by the recent deployment of agents to cities seeing protests and demonstrations for racial justice. The outsized agency now has an eye in extending its culture of abuse to cities and towns outside of the southern border, where apprehensions of migrants have continued to decrease and change in demographics.

As the number of people crossing the southern border has decreased, the demographic makeup of people arriving at the border has changed. In recent years, more families and unaccompanied children have been arriving at the border. Many are refugees seeking formal protection through the asylum system.

According to the most recent CBP data, about 30,000 people were apprehended attempting to cross the southern border in June, 2020. A vast majority are single adults (some 27,000) -- but a sizeable number are families and children.

Southern Border Checkpoints

The 4th amendment of the U.S. constitution protects people from “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Yet a vast network of checkpoints laid throughout the interior of the southern border threaten this fundamental right with arbitrary stops and searches, which disproportionately target communities of color. The checkpoints are intrusive and have resulted in many cases of abuse and generally decrease the quality of life of border residents.

The checkpoints - spread throughout the southwestern border - raise concerns of continued racial profiling and help propagate the Border Patrol’s disregard for civil rights. Hundreds of checkpoints are operated in the 100-mile enforcement zone.


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