Fact Check: Did President Trump Build the 'Big, Beautiful' Border Wall he Promised?

During President Donald Trump's first campaign for president, one of his biggest, most quoted promises was to build a "big, beautiful wall" along the U.S.-Mexico border.

As far back as June 16, 2015, when he launched his campaign, Trump promised to "build a great wall" on the U.S.-Mexico border "very inexpensively."

"I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me, and I'll build them very inexpensively," Trump said. "I will build a great great wall on our southern border and I'll have Mexico pay for that wall."

"Build the wall" chants were still heard at Trump's 2020 campaign rallies.

As President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office January 20, the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) aim to complete 450 miles of border wall before the inauguration.

The Claim

During an interview with Fox News on Monday, Trump campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley said the border wall is "one of the greatest achievements this president has had, [and] is making our country a safer place.

"No one said it could be done. [Trump] was able to accomplish it."

The Facts

The International Boundary and Water Commission estimates that the U.S.-Mexican border is about 1,954 miles long. The number often varies because the twisting Rio Grande River makes it difficult to get an exact length.

According to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) website, 452 miles of border wall have been constructed as of January 5, 2021. This total is "approximate and rounded as construction activities are ongoing." Only about 80 miles of primary and secondary barriers were built in areas where there were previously no structures.

During his State of the Union address last February, Trump pledged to have "substantially more than 500 miles" of wall built by January 2021.

By the end of last October, the White House celebrated reaching 400 miles of new wall system and the CBP noted that approximately 10 miles of new wall was being constructed per week.

"The border wall system is Exhibit A in showing that the Trump Administration is serious about border security," said the CBP's acting commissioner, Mark Morgan. "This wall saves American lives. Every single bit of concrete and steel that goes into the ground stops dangerous people and deadly drugs from coming into this country."

However, only a fraction of the border had no wall construction before Trump took office.

According to the Government Accountability Office, there were 654 miles of barriers along the border in 2017. Of that, there were 345 miles of pedestrian barriers and 300 miles of anti-vehicle fencing.

Most of the construction done by the Trump administration replaced outdated or aging fencing in dilapidated sections of the wall or parts that only had vehicle barriers, according to the New York Times.

According to the CBP agency website, they have worked on adding secondary barriers, reconstruction or repair work on existing infrastructure.

The Congressional Research Service reported that the new barriers constructed were different from the pedestrian and vehicle fencing they are replacing. According to the report, Trump's refurbishments pose "a formidable barrier, but it is not the high, thick masonry structure that most dictionaries term a 'wall.'"

The report adds that while the new barriers may not be made of concrete, as the president initially promised, and in many cases replace existing structures, they do pose "a new obstacle that changes the calculus of those attempting to cross the border between ports of entry."

As of January 2021, CBP says 681,000 cubic yards of concrete has been used in construction so far, along with 971,000 tons of steel. According to FactCheck.org, they replaced vehicle barriers, the type that people could walk through, with 30-foot-high steel bollards, lighting and other technology.

Scott Nicol, co-chairman of the Sierra Club's Borderland team, told FactCheck.org that Trump's claims that he is "almost finished" is "absolutely not true, particularly in South Texas," where large areas of the border land are privately owned. In South Texas, Nicol said, "the need to acquire property on which to build the border wall has stymied construction" as landowners have tied up the government in the courts.

According to a GAO analysis issued in November, as of July 2020, the federal government had acquired 135 tracts of privately owned land but was still working to acquire 991 additional tracts, almost all of them in the Rio Grande Valley and Laredo areas in South Texas. GAO also reported that 107 miles of new border wall is planned to be built in the Rio Grande Valley, but Nicol said there is a total of 6 or 7 miles up scattered around.

Did Mexico pay for it? The short answer: No.

From the beginning, Trump gave different estimates of the project costs, ranging from $8 billion to $12 billion. Former Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said soon after Trump's election that his country would not pay for the barrier, adding: "Mexico does not believe in walls."

Trump pulled funds from military and other government budgets, with assistance from private fundraising efforts.

CBP estimates that the Trump administration secured a total of $15 billion in U.S. funds for the project, enough to build 738 miles of wall.

Biden has promised to end the construction when he takes office.

"There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration," Biden told reporters in August. "I'm going to make sure that we have border protection, but it's going to be based on making sure that we use high-tech capacity to deal with it. And at the ports of entry—that's where all the bad stuff is happening."

Morgan insisted that ending wall construction would be a "waste of taxpayer money" that would amount to "probably billions of dollars" when speaking to reporters earlier this week.

"There has been talk about the quote 'not building another foot of wall.' I want to talk about the reality, not the political reality, but the substantive impact, of stopping construction," Morgan said.

"Let's consider the cost directly to American taxpayers when we walk away, which will probably be billions of dollars that have already been invested and assigned to a contract."

The U.S Army Corps estimates that $3.3 billion of the total will be unused when Trump leaves office, with the $2.6 billion figure remaining because companies are likely to charge $700 million in "demobilization" fees when the project is terminated.

The Ruling

Mostly False.

Much of the Trump administration's efforts over the past four years replaced existing barriers along the border or added secondary or tertiary barriers of security.

Mexico did not pay for the wall. The funding for this project came from the budgets of several U.S. federal government agencies..

Biden Ending Trump Wall Could Save Billions
Construction workers help to assemble a wall along the Mexican border in El Paso, Texas, on February 12, 2019. Joe Raedle/Getty