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CNN’s Daniel Dale said just said this, in the course of fact-checking President Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention:

[President Trump] boasted about building about 300 miles of border wall. What he didn’t say is that most of that is replacement barrier. As of August 7, according to official data, just 5 miles had been built where none existed before.

My question is, is Dale right that as of August 7, the Trump administration had built a total of 5 new miles of border wall in places where no barriers existed before President Trump took office?

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Some news media beyond CNN are reporting on the 5 miles, such as Express News:

Since he took office in 2017, the administration has set aside $15 billion for 738 miles of walls and fencing on the 2,000-mile border, with the money coming from Homeland Security, the Defense Department and the Treasury Forfeiture Fund.

The federal government has completed 260 miles of replacement and secondary walls, but only 5 new miles of the 30-foot high steel bollard fencing where none existed before, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data obtained by the Express-News.

Althought it appears to vary quite a bit: 3 miles from the Daily Mail, 16 from the Washington Post, Axios even says 0...

On the CBP (Customs and Border Protection) website, you can see where they plan to build a brand new border or replace an existing one, they even have an image (as of August 29, 2020) giving an overview:

US Mexico border image

At first sight, there is quite a lot of plain new border wall planned. On August 10, 2020, they indicated that 275 miles had been built, so where does the 5(-ish?) miles come from?

I checked all the national media releases on the CBP's website that have been released since early 2020 to see if a detailed reporting of "replacement vs brand new barrier" was available, but to no avail.

The CBP has apparently sent a report to news media as of May 22, which has been reported upon, but I couldn't find the original. WaPo's commentary on it:

A report from Customs and Border Protection sent to reporters on Tuesday shows that 194 miles of wall have indeed been built — including primary walls and secondary walls that act as reinforcement systems. More to the point of Trump’s promise, only 16 miles of the 194 miles that have been constructed were built in places where fencing didn’t already exist. Of the 170 miles of primary wall that have been built, three miles are in places where no barrier existed before.

Along with the following image:

How much wall has been built May 22

A border wall necessarily has a primary wall, and may have a secondary wall to help support the former. As such, replacing an existing wall (whether primary or seconday) or adding a secondary wall do not count toward the claim, only new primary wall construction is counted for "where no barrier existed", hence why the number appears so low compared to how much has been built/replaced.

WaPo also mentions that building barrier on areas where there were previously none is quite a bit more difficult:

It’s also true, though, that replacing wall is much easier than building new wall. For one thing, the government generally already owns the land on which the replacement wall is being built, obviating the need to purchase or seize property. For another, the areas being replaced are also generally ready for building in a way that newly acquired territory wouldn’t be.

To sum things up: While it it difficult to pin down an exact number for today, 3 miles have been built on brand new land as of May 22, 2020 per the CBP, and with the difficulty in establishing completely new walls over simply replacing existing ones, would indicate that the claim is likely true.

| improve this answer | |
  • Both the Daily Mail (3 miles) and The Washington Post (16 miles) are using the May 22 data. 3 miles of new primary fence where no barrier existed at all plus 13 miles of new secondary fence where only a primary barrier existed = 16 miles. They are consistent. However, focusing on areas where no barrier existed is itself a lie, a lie as big as Trump's original campaign promise. Much of the existing barrier fence is more of a welcome sign than a barrier. – David Hammen Aug 29 at 10:44
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    @DavidHammen After checking the state of the old barrier, having the claim "technically true" does feel kinda "meh". That feels quite misleading and such a big miss that'd I mark it down as "lie by omission" at this point, but I'm unsure how much I can put in my current answer while staying on topic, that's for the mods to say. At the very least, it's a good thing it got pointed out. – Asmael Aug 29 at 11:37
  • Feel free to take the images from my massively downvoted community answer in which I granted the claim in the question as trivially true (and it is trivially true) and focused on the lie by omission. Beware that you will be downvoted if you do so. – David Hammen Aug 29 at 12:26
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    @DavidHammen Your message was heavily down voted because you refused to provide data to backup your claim, making it more of a rant than an answer suitable for this site. – mmeent Aug 29 at 14:19
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    @Asmael I greatly appreciate thorough answers that illuminate the truth. If you think people are using this factoid misleadingly, then you need to address it. This is what SE calls Good subjective. You may get a dv or two, but if it's sensible and "good subjective", you'll receive plenty of upvotes. – fredsbend Aug 29 at 15:21

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