By ELLIOT SPAGAT
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Recent assaults by tactical teams on prototypes of President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall suggest their imposing heights should stop border crossers, a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the rigorous assessment told The Associated Press.
Military special forces based in Florida and U.S. Customs and Border Protection special units spent three weeks trying to breach and scale the eight models in San Diego, using jackhammers, saws, torches and other tools and climbing devices, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not authorized for public release.
A Customs and Border Protection report on the tests identifies strengths and flaws of each design but does not pick a winner or rank them, although it does point to see-through steel barriers topped by concrete as the best general design, the official said.
The report recommends combining elements of each prototype, and varying the design depending on the terrain where a particular section of wall stands.
Carlos Diaz, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, said the agency is still in “the testing phase” and that the results are being evaluated. He said the plan to combine elements of different prototypes instead of picking a winner is consistent with previous statements that officials have made. He noted that the agency said in its bidding guidelines that a minimum height of 18 feet would be essential. He said he did not have additional details on test results.
Contractors were awarded between $300,000 and $500,000 for each prototype. Prototypes were built last fall to guide the construction of what would amount to the fulfillment of one of Trump’s best-known campaign pledges. Four of the prototypes were made of concrete and four of other materials.
Ronald Vitiello, the agency’s acting deputy commissioner, said after visiting the prototypes in October that he was struck most by their 30-foot heights, which are significantly higher than existing barriers. Taller barriers are undoubtedly more effective, but whether the cost is justified is up for debate.
The highly trained testers scaled 16 to 20 feet unassisted but needed help after that, said the official who described the assaults on the wall prototypes to the AP. Testers also expressed safety concerns about getting down from 30 feet.
Only once did a tester manage to land a hook on top of the wall without help, the official said. Tubes atop some models repelled climbing devices but wouldn’t work in more mountainous areas because the terrain is too jagged.
The report favors using steel at ground level because agents can see what is happening on the other side and holes can more easily be patched, the official said. With concrete, large slabs have to be replaced for even small breaches, which takes a lot of time and money. Topping the steel with smooth concrete surfaces helps prevent climbing.
Customs and Border Protection leaders were scheduled to be briefed on the findings this week amid intensifying discussions between the White House and Congress on immigration legislation to avert a government shutdown and renew protection for about 800,000 young immigrants who were temporarily shielded from deportation under an Obama-era program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which is scheduled to end in March.
The administration has insisted that money for the wall be part of any immigration deal but Trump has been unclear about how long the wall would be and how it should be designed. The administration has asked for $1.6 billion this year to build or replace 74 miles of barriers in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley and San Diego and plans to request another $1.6 billion next year.
A proposal by Customs and Border Protection calls for spending $18 billion over 10 years to extend barriers to cover nearly half the border, although it is unclear if Trump supports that plan. The agency proposes having 316 miles of additional barrier by September 2027, bringing the total length to 970 miles. It is also seeking 407 miles of replacement or secondary fencing.
Mexico has steadfastly rejected Trump’s demand that it pay for the wall.
Contracts to do work on that scale would be hugely lucrative, and the prototypes, spaced tightly together in a remote part of San Diego, have captured widespread attention, including from architecture critics. W.G. Yates & Sons Construction Co. of Philadelphia, Mississippi, and Caddell Construction Co. of Montgomery, Alabama, built one model made of concrete and one of other materials.
Texas Sterling Construction Co., a unit of Sterling Construction Co., and Fisher Sand & Gravel Co. of Tempe, Arizona, drew up designs for a concrete wall. ELTA North America Inc., part of state-run Israel Aerospace Industries, and KWR Construction Inc. of Sierra Vista, Arizona, built models from other materials.
Vitiello said in October that the testing could last up to two months and lead to officials to conclude that elements of several designs should be merged to create effective walls, raising the possibility of no winner or winners.