U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced Thursday that it has completed a major step toward construction of the Trump administration’s planned wall on the southern border with Mexico.

In a statement, the federal agency said that it has completed construction of eight wall prototypes, which will undergo a series of tests over the next 30 to 60 days. The prototype construction was done in San Diego.

“Border security contributes to our overall national security and relies on a combination of border infrastructure, technology, personnel, and partnerships,” Ron Vitiello, CBP’s acting deputy commissioner said in a statement. “Border walls have proven to be an extremely effective part of our multi-pronged security strategy to prevent the illegal migration of people and drugs over the years.”

In all, six companies, including Houston-based Texas Sterling Construction, built eight prototypes. The company has existed for more than 60 years, according to its website. A call seeking additional details about the border wall project was not immediately returned.

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Construction of the controversial barrier was a hallmark of Trump's presidential campaign, and he moved forward with the process shortly after taking office. In a Jan. 25 executive order, he mandated that agencies “take all appropriate steps to immediately" plan and design the wall. His promise that Mexico would pay for it, however, hasn’t panned out. The Mexican government has repeatedly rejected that notion. The total price tag for the project isn't clear, though some reports state the figure could exceed $20 billion

This month, the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee passed the Border Security for America Act, introduced by Austin Republican and committee chairman Michael McCaul. The legislation would authorize $10 billion for wall construction and an additional $5 billion for upgrades to the country’s ports of entry.

But other lawmakers, including some Republicans, have rejected the notion of such a wall and have argued instead for a “smart” or “virtual” wall that uses technology, including sensors, drones and other efforts, instead of a physical barrier.

According to Thursday’s news release, CBP will test the San Diego prototypes in several areas, including anti-digging, climbing or breaching strengths, to determine whether they are safe for U.S. Border Patrol agents and whether they impede traffic. 

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • A congressional committee voted to send the full U.S. House a bill appropriating $10 billion toward building a border wall, but not before some Texas Democrats found ways to mock the proposal. [Full story]

  • Federal officials plan to start construction this fall on 3 miles of border barrier through a South Texas wildlife refuge. [Full story]

  • A legislative measure that will fund part of a border wall passed the U.S. House, but its prospects in the U.S. Senate look grim. [Full story]

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