WHITE HOUSE - The border wall literally became President Donald Trump's signature project Wednesday.
Trump used a permanent marker to sign a new portion of the rust-colored metal barrier, reinforced with concrete and rebar, rising as high as 9 meters at Otay Mesa, a suburb of San Diego that separates California from Tijuana, Mexico.
"It is really virtually impenetrable," Trump declared.
"There are thousands of people over there that were trying to get in" before this portion of the barricade went up, said Trump, who described the work he inspected Wednesday afternoon as "pretty amazing."
"The wall does not answer the crisis at the border today," said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the New York office of the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. "The situation at the border today is not people sneaking in. The crisis at the border today is asylum-seekers showing up and voluntarily turning themselves in to the Border Patrol."
Chishti told VOA that the near-total ban on asylum implemented via administrative regulation, along with the "Migrant Protection Protocol" and metering of asylum claims at ports of entry, will have far more to do with limiting arrivals than will the wall.
The president told reporters that up to 800 kilometers of border wall, about 1 meter thick, was under construction, but that it was premature to end the national emergency he declared in response to attempts by migrants to illegally cross the border from Mexico.
"I think really the success is going to be when the wall's built, when human traffickers can't come through," Trump said. "This is certainly a tremendous national emergency."
U.S. Army troops stationed at the border would eventually be drawn down and replaced with Border Patrol agents as the wall goes up, the president said.
Trump, asked about his repeated vow that Mexico would pay for the wall, said Wednesday at Otay Mesa that "they're paying for 27,000 soldiers, as you know," on the Mexican side, thwarting border-crossing.
"If I took 5% tariff for six months, that pays for the wall," Trump said of products from Mexico, quickly adding he did not want to do that because of the current cooperation from the Mexican government.
"Now they're doing yeoman's work," Trump said of Mexico.
During much of his time inspecting a section of new wall, Trump touted its strength, claiming "20 mountain climbers" had tried to scale it to test its effectiveness.
"This is the one that was hardest to climb," he said of the current type being built in the San Diego sector. "This wall can't be climbed."
"You can fry an egg on that wall," he added, noting how it is designed to absorb heat, making it even more difficult to scale.
The border barrier being built is meant to deter even the most well-equipped smuggling operations, according to the president.
"If you think you're going cut it with a blowtorch, that doesn't work because you hit concrete," Trump said, adding that cutting through concrete won't work because it is reinforced with rebar.
When the president attempted to get an Army general to discuss high-technology security measures that are part of the wall, the officer demurred, saying it would be better not to mention those features.
Trump told reporters that three other countries were studying the new type of wall in hopes of building one of their own. He said he would disclose the names of those countries if he got their approval.
Trump also said the U.S. government would be stopping next week the "catch and release" of undocumented people trying to enter the country, something his administration has opposed from the beginning.
"To the extent they have released people who have been caught, it's only been because of resource constraints either in the immigration court system or in the detention system," MPI's Chishti said. "There is no reason to believe that either of those factors has been addressed in the recent past, so while the administration can announce the end of catch and release, without an effective infrastructure to support it, it's hard to see how it will be a different day on immigration enforcement."
Praise for Mexico
Trump noted Tijuana is close by, saying "there are thousands of people over there that were trying to get in." He then praised Mexico for its efforts that have significantly stemmed the flow of migrants at the border.
Analysts say the reductions in arrivals at the border are a combination of increased Mexican enforcement; the throttling of asylum avenues by the Trump administration with the creation of the Remain in Mexico plan and limits on who can apply for asylum; and seasonal declines in migration at this time of the year.
"This is the wall the agents asked for," a Border Patrol agent told the president at the border Wednesday.
Trump, however, is not getting one wall option he desired, at least for now: a black coat of paint.
"We can paint it at a later date," said the president, noting the cost savings can be applied to build even more wall.