Did the United States Authorize $50 Billion for the Secure Fence Act of 2006?
A hugely popular Facebook post centered on President George W. Bush’s Secure Fence Act of 2006 and its funding.
President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 into law “approved $50 Billion for the wall”
WHERE IS THAT MONEY?
Although the post was exceptionally well circulated (in excess of 200,000 shares), the wording used wasn’t entirely clear. It claimed President Bush “signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006 into law ‘approved $50 Billion for the wall,'” going on to ask where “that money” was.
The garbled verbiage could have been interpreted several ways. One was that President Bush signed the act in question, and authorized $50 billion for the project. Also, it could be read that the act itself allocated a $50 billion secure fence, authorized by the then-president’s signing of it. Moreover, the code of “WHERE IS THAT MONEY?” could be interpreted as a question about the fate of the purportedly authorized $50 billion from 2006, but it could also have been a question about the lesser sum of $5.7 billion requested by President Trump for border wall funding in 2019.
Those ambiguities in the original post made it difficult to fact check, but we were able to examine elements of its claims. The first was that President George W. Bush signed into law the Secure Fence Act of 2006, easily verified as true using extensive documentation from that administration:
Directs the Secretary of Homeland Security, within 18 months of enactment of this Act, to take appropriate actions to achieve operational control over U.S. international land and maritime borders, including: (1) systematic border surveillance through more effective use of personnel and technology, such as unmanned aerial vehicles, ground-based sensors, satellites, radar coverage, and cameras; and (2) physical infrastructure enhancements to prevent unlawful border entry and facilitate border access by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, such as additional checkpoints, all weather access roads, and vehicle barriers.
Amends the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to direct the Secretary to provide at least two layers of reinforced fencing, installation of additional physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors extending: (1) from ten miles west of the Tecate, California, port of entry to ten miles east of the Tecate, California, port of entry; (2) from ten miles west of the Calexico, California, port of entry to five miles east of the Douglas, Arizona, port of entry (requiring installation of an interlocking surveillance camera system by May 30, 2007, and fence completion by May 30, 2008); (3) from five miles west of the Columbus, New Mexico, port of entry to ten miles east of El Paso, Texas; (4) from five miles northwest of the Del Rio, Texas, port of entry to five miles southeast of the Eagle Pass, Texas, port of entry; and (5) 15 miles northwest of the Laredo, Texas, port of entry to the Brownsville, Texas, port of entry (requiring fence completion from 15 miles northwest of the Laredo, Texas, port of entry to 15 southeast of the Laredo, Texas, port of entry by December 31, 2008).
The fencing described was not as ambitious as the border fence championed by Donald Trump from 2015 during his campaign and into his presidency, and neither President Bush nor Congress allocated anywhere near the $50 billion mentioned in the status update for that project. In fact, Congress later set aside $1.4 billion for the wall, but it was not funded by the signing of the Act itself. News reports from that time centered on the fact that while the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was ambitious in its own right, it was not supported by appropriations.
The $50 billion mentioned in the meme was in fact the projected total cost for the approximately 700 miles of wall (versus a wall across the entire southern border, which runs about 2,000 miles):
The plan was not nearly as expansive as Trump’s promise for a wall along the entire border. It allowed for about 700 miles of fencing along certain stretches. Congress put aside $1.4 billion for the fence, but the whole cost, including maintenance, was pegged at $50 billion over 25 years, according to analyses at the time.
The government had constructed about 650 miles of fence by 2015, most of it after passage of the act, according to a report [in 2016] by the US Government Accountability Office.
In regard to “what happened” to the funding that was allocated in relation to the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the government spent it on, well, a fence:
By May 2011, DHS reported completing 649 miles of fencing (99.5% of the 652 miles planned). The barrier was made up of 299 miles of vehicle barriers and 350 miles of pedestrian fence. The fencing includes a steel fence (varying in height between 18 and 26 feet) that divides the border towns of Nogales, Arizona in the U.S. and Nogales, Sonora in Mexico. A 2016 report by the Government Accountability Office confirmed that the government had completed the fence by 2015. A 2017 GAO report noted: “In addition to the 654 miles of primary fencing, CBP has also deployed additional layers of pedestrian fencing behind the primary border fencing, including 37 miles of secondary fencing and 14 miles of tertiary fencing.”
There was also the matter of appropriations for the project significantly altering the nature of the barrier described in the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As of April 2017, the fencing had been constructed — but not to the specifications of the original legislation. Once again, the fence was also far less daunting than the proposed border wall:
Originally, the act called on the Department of Homeland Security to install at least two layers of reinforced fencing along some stretches of the border. That was amended later, however, through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, which got rid of the double-layer requirement.
Currently [in April 2017], 702 miles of fencing separates the United States from Mexico, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
So how does that compare to Trump’s wall?
Trump plans for the wall are vague, but here’s what we know.
He said the wall doesn’t need to run the nearly 2,000 miles of the border, but about 1,000 miles because of natural barriers. He said it could cost between $8 billion and $12 billion, be made of precast concrete, and rise 35 to 40 feet, or 50 feet, or higher.
From what we could infer from the status update, its poster claimed that President Bush (or some other legislative body) funded a border fence to the tune of $50 billion via the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Although the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was a real piece of legislation, nearly every other aspect of the meme was wrong. The $50 billion cited was the projected cost cited by analysts, not money anyone set aside to fund the wall. Adding to the incorrect claim about funding was that at the time the bill was passed, no appropriations had yet been made to fund the project. And if questions about where the money had gone referred to appropriations for the project, that money was spent on building the wall spanning from California to Texas that has already existed on the border for several years.