Companies line up to build the border wall

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President Trump wants to build a border wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, and hundreds of construction and engineering companies are lining up to help. Who’s interested, and why?

“There’s work and there’s politics. We build,” said Marc Uribe, explaining why his firm De la Fuente Construction has submitted its name to a federal business government callout for firms interested in being considered to build President Trump’s Mexican-American border wall.

“That’s a project that requires construction within our wheelhouse capabilities. Therefore that’s exactly what we’ve been looking for,” he said.

De la Fuente Construction is just one of hundreds of companies that have expressed interest in helping to construct the wall.

The companies that are lining up range from global defense contractors to small, family-owned businesses. It’s still not clear, though, what kind of wall the government has in mind — and how it’ll be funded.

U.S. Air Force airmen install a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border east of San Luis, Ariz., on Oct. 3, 2006. The Guardsmen are working in partnership with the U.S. Border Patrol as part of Operation Jump Start. The airmen are assigned to the 188th Fighter Wing Arkansas Air National Guard. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Dan Heaton, U.S. Air Force. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

A request for proposals is expected to be launched Wednesday. Teams will have to propose a sketch idea for “concrete wall structures, nominally 30 feet tall, that will meet requirements for aesthetics, anti-climbing, and resistance to tampering or damage.”

So who is throwing their hat into the ring?

“These are firms from very different kinds of sizes, from small mom-and-pop fencing and concrete companies to large defense contractors,” said Kriston Capps, staff writer at The Atlantic’s CityLab who has been reporting on the project.

“You have to wonder how many can actually do this work, which is a multi-state project requiring an enormous amount of project management experience. You’re not just building a wall or a fence – whichever it is, we’re not certain yet – but you are moving tons of material and personnel into areas that have little infrastructure, few roads… this is a very, very large project and I think only a handful of firms could even conceivably be prepared for the logistical challenges, the litigation that will inevitably emerge, and just a number of other hurdles,” Capps said.

A painted metal mural attached to the Mexican side of the US border wall in the city of Heroica Nogales, Sonora. The mural is titled “Paseo de Humanidad” (Parade of Humanity) and was created by artists Alberto Morackis, Alfred Quiróz and Guadalupe Serrano. It depict the struggles and harsh realities of economic refugees traveling through the Sonoran desert to reach the US. Photo by Jonathan McIntosh. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Among many questions yet to be answered is how this proposed wall will differ from the wall or fence that already exists along 650 miles of the nearly 2,000-mile border. Much of the border that isn’t walled is difficult to build on, either because of the Rio Grande River, massive cliff faces or treacherous terrain.

“That’s one of the problems with bidding on this proposal, is because the project doesn’t have those parameters clarified at all,” Capps said.

While there are few details, we do know that the project is highly politically charged. Anyone that competes for this project can expect to face greater political and consumer backlash than they might when applying for any other federal project.

“There are a number of global powerhouse construction, project management and defense firms that you might expect to be in the bidding for this project and at least on this list of interested firms, they’re not here,” Capps said. “And that’s one of the reasons why this procurement process seems a little bit strange. One is because it is so hasty. It is so hurried. And two, because it’s a request for proposals for prototype designs rather than a request for qualifications.”

One of the smaller firms that has expressed interest is the San Diego-area De la Fuente Construction.

“We have offices in San Diego, El Paso and Corpus Christi. So we are we’re poised right here from one end of the wall to the other,” said Marc Uribe, the company’s federal program manager. “So we have experience doing this type of work. And yeah, I do believe it’s real.”

Aspiring migrant from Mexico into the US at the Tijuana-San Diego border. The crosses represent the deaths of failed attempts. Photo by Tomas Castelazo. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Another company with far less experience with this type of construction is the Los Angeles-based Greywater Corps, which designs and installs greywater irrigation systems and rainwater harvesting systems. The company’s founder, Leigh Jerrard, tells DnA he wants to submit his company’s name to the project.

“I’ve been reading about the wall for a while. It seems on the face of it like an absolutely absurd, vindictive project with a hollow center. It’s kind of rah-rah nationalism. And it occurred to me that generally all these large government contracts go to Blackwater, Raytheon, General Dynamics – huge contracting companies. But as a licensed contractor I’m completely eligible to bid on this project, just as much as anyone else. So why not take it to the next level and actually see if we could do it,” he said.

So, does Jerrard anticipate water being a feature of his prototype for a wall?

“Well, a moat full of crocodiles might be good,” he said.

According to the Federal Business Opportunities website, the phase 1 sketch proposals for the U.S.-Mexico border wall are due by around March 20. Then comes Phase 2, in which a shortlist of firms will submit more detailed proposals, due in early May.

The Dept. of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) says the goal is to “acquire and evaluate available wall prototypes and provide some initial construction of some wall segments,” rather than procure a “total wall solution.”

Image at the top of the page: The wall at the border of Tijuana, Mexico and San Diego. The crosses represent migrants who died in the crossing attempt. Photo by Tomas Castelazo.