Between San Diego and Tijuana, eight prototype border walls are ready for testing – but will any get built, and will it make a difference if the

Four of the eight prototype border walls near Otay Mesa outside San Diego.
Four of the eight prototype border walls near Otay Mesa outside San Diego. © Dan Tuffs for the Guardian


The scene feels a bit like the film Jurassic Park: a jovial guide explains how the fence will keep sightseers safe from untold terrors. This fence, though, is designed to keep out people, not unadvisedly resurrected dinosaurs. 

The bus moves east from the Otay Mesa border crossing, to a site where eight brand new edifices – 30ft tall and 30ft wide – arise from the desert like a postmodern art exhibition. 

These are prototypes for Donald Trump’s “big, beautiful wall”: eight designs selected by CBP from hundreds of entrants in a bidding process that began in March. Contractors had 30 days to construct the prototypes and, in late November, the concrete and steel edifices will be tested to see how they hold up against attempts to climb over, tunnel under, or bash through them. 

At that point, according to the Trump campaign narrative, a winner would be selected and the process of erecting the chosen design across the United States’ 2000-mile southern border would begin, at an estimated cost of $21bn. But the CBP agents ferrying TV crews and photographers to the construction site were noncommittal about the prospect of this bidding process actually leading to a grand prize. 

“Ultimately, the winner is the US government,” said Roy Villareal, chief of the San Diego border patrol sector. The process has provided the government with new ideas for border infrastructure, he said, so even if Congress does not approve funding for the wall, the agency can use aspects of the designs as it replaces and repairs existing fencing. 

“Irrespective of whether the border wall is funded,” he said, “there is always funding for maintenance.”

Villareal demurred from picking a favourite of the eight, saying that he would wait for the testing, but DeSio praised the easternmost model – a solid concrete structure with terracotta colouring and a slightly tapered profile – as “svelte” and something he wouldn’t mind having enclosing his garden. Still, DeSio pointed out that the wall by itself is no panacea: “You can’t just lay a wall out there and say, ‘That’s it.’” 

Jason Bush, another CBP agent, concurred, and said that he would personally prioritise spending money on personnel. “If the wall is there and someone gets over and is working me over,” he said, “the wall isn’t going to reach down and help me.”