The construction of a $22 million Border Wall in Downtown El Paso will begin on Saturday, according to Border Patrol officials.
“This new wall will be far more durable and far more effective in deterring would-be illegal entrants,” El Paso Border Patrol Sector Chief Aaron Hull said.
Funding for the project was earmarked in the 2017 Appropriations Bill as part of the President’s Executive Order 13767
Construction on the 18-foot steel bollard wall will replace current chain-link fencing that is currently in place. One mile of the steel structure will be built west of the Paso Del Norte Port of Entry and the remaining three miles will be east of the PDN Bridge and will join with an existing 12-foot steel fence that begins on near Fonseca Road along the Border Highway.
The contract for the wall’s construction was awarded to West Point Contractors of Tucson, Arizona on June 1, 2018 but was not announced to the public until September 18.
Border Patrol maintains that the area is a hotspot for illegal entry into the U.S. When asked to provide specific numbers of illegal crossings in the area, officials with the Border Patrol were unable to give specifics. Instead, they say that their experience working in the area is all the evidence needed to show the four mile stretch is at a higher susceptibility for illegal border crossings.
The construction project came as a surprise to many in the Chihuahuita community, city leaders and immigration advocates.
Border Network for Human Rights called the announcement of the construction at the last minute “unacceptable.”
Fernando Garcia with BNHR organizes a bi-annual event called “Hugs Not Walls” which unites families separated by the Border in the arroyo near the PDN Bridge. On Monday, officials with the Border Patrol contacted Garcia to inform him that a previously approved permit for October 6, was being rescinded due to the wall’s construction.
Hull said the Border Patrol will continue to work with community stakeholders in the future, but said border security is their top priority. He declined to state whether Hugs Not Walls would be able to continue at the conclusion of the wall’s construction.
The El Paso Sector Border says apprehensions in the 2018 Fiscal Year were up 61% over 2017. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero tolerance” policy in April, which was enacted in May. The policy resulted in controversial family separation and the creation of ‘tent cities’ which housed children separated from their parents.
In response to the wall’s construction, the Border Network for Human Rights and a number of community activists and elected officials joined together to announce a community action demonstration for Saturday, September 22 at 10 a.m. at Cleveland Square to protest the construction project.
The demonstration is expected to move toward the Paso Del Norte Bridge.