Nearly 10 months after we asked the federal government for records detailing how much it has spent to build a border wall, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting is suing for that information.
Last March, reporter Andrew Becker asked U.S. Customs and Border Protection for records showing the costs of buying land and building fence along the country’s 2,000-mile southern border. After the government dragged its feet for months on our request, we filed suit in U.S. District Court this week seeking the records.
We sued because the federal Freedom of Information Act requires the government to release records in a timely manner. There are a few narrow exceptions to releasing records and this case isn’t one of them.
President Donald Trump made building a wall along the border with Mexico a signature campaign promise, repeatedly vowing to make Mexico pay for it.
Turns out Mexico wasn’t on board with that plan, so Trump issued executive orders shortly after taking office demanding construction of the wall and recently asked Congress for $18 billion to pay for it, according to news reports. On the campaign trail, Trump had estimated the wall would cost $8 billion.
While some members of Congress and Trump try to work out funding for the project, the government is moving ahead with prototypes for a massive new wall.
Officers who’ve worked along the border and directed policy for Customs and Border Protection said the project wasn’t needed, with one calling it “an incredible waste of taxpayer money.” Some estimates have put the price tag for a complete wall at more than $70 billion.
With so much taxpayer money at stake and few details about how it would be used, we wanted to know how much the government had already spent to acquire land and build barriers along the border and where that land was. We’ve done a lot of reporting on the wall, including publishing the most comprehensive map of where about 700 miles of fencing exists now.
A CBP official closed our request two months after we submitted it, claiming we failed to state a time frame, and then would not respond to our follow-up calls and emails trying to clarify the issue. We appealed this decision and an appeals officer agreed with us – “how frustrating,” she wrote – kicking the matter back down the chain.
But the border agency still didn’t process our request or explain the mounting delays and stopped communicating with us in July.
Our suit seeks records including the amount of money that Customs and Border Protection and DHS has paid to landowners to acquire private property for border fence construction, costs for existing fence construction, costs for land condemnation actions and locations of land parcels acquired by the government as well as names of who received the funds. Because some border condemnation cases have lasted many years and the policy issues involve several presidencies, we asked for records dating back to 1996.
We’ll let you know how it all turns out.