Stephen Neusch, president of Austin-based Black Security Products LLC, is matter-of-fact about being a bidder on the border wall.
A veteran of building border fencing, he has responded to the Trump administration’s request for proposals for design and construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, which were due Tuesday, with a hybrid concept of a concrete wall topped by fencing with an innovative twist: an elevated platform that would serve as a road.
“It’s like a bridge,” said Neusch, who shared the conceptual drawings for his bid with the American-Statesman. “It’s part of our design for the border wall.” While he wouldn’t give cost estimates, he said the structure, with the additional steel lane for Border Patrol vehicles to drive on while they patrol, wouldn’t come cheap.
“It’s going to be more expensive than the fence,” he said. The design includes ramps that would enable a Border Patrol vehicle to reach the ground quickly. The fencing would allow agents to see through the barrier — a feature that Border Patrol officials are insisting on. Neusch’s company built about 30 percent of the approximately 650 miles of current fencing on the border.
Asked if he was concerned about being the potential target of criticism for participating in a divisive project — some communities in California have vowed not to do business with bidders on the wall — Neusch said, “It doesn’t bother me at all. I laugh about it. We’re in the anti-terrorism business.”
More than 700 businesses registered with the Homeland Security Department as “interested vendors” to bid on separate proposals for President Donald Trump’s signature issue. Federal officials will select several companies to build prototypes in San Diego.
Dozens of Texas companies signed up as being interested in the project.
Some have faced a backlash. Fort Worth’s Michael Evangelista-Ysasaga, chief executive officer of The Penna Group LLC, said he has received death threats from anti-wall activists. “We had to do a lot of soul-searching,” he told the American-Statesman. “It’s not something we took lightly.”
“My heart goes out to a lot of these immigrants,” he said. And while he has urged comprehensive immigration reform, he decided he couldn’t pass on the opportunity for such a massive public works project.
“This is the biggest project on the planet,” Evangelista-Ysasaga said. “We’re a defense contractor for roads, highways, bridges. Pretty much, if it’s infrastructure, we build it.”
James Carpenter, president of Quantum Logistics in Mission, also submitted bids. Speaking from Afghanistan where he was supervising a security project, he said, “I’m bringing this experience home. … This is how I see it. I’m a soldier by nature and by heart. I see human trafficking, and I am now in a position to do something about it. … I feel it is my opportunity to answer the call.”
Of his concepts, Carpenter said, “Both my designs involve patrolling with drones” with sensors and include places to launch and land the surveillance devices.
Meanwhile, Tuesday on Capitol Hill, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee discussed the wall and what it will cost, hearing from former Border Patrol officials and an expert from the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is scheduled to testify to the committee Wednesday.
Senate Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said, “I don’t think anyone here is talking about 2,000 miles of wall.” He repeated Kelly’s previous description of a “layered approach” composed of a barrier, technology and boots on the ground. Johnson spoke of inspecting the Israeli wall in the West Bank and said that, given the costs he’s seen for that wall, he didn’t think the cost estimates for the U.S. wall — as high as $45 billion — were accurate.
“I think it will be less than $8 billion — between $5 billion and $8 billion,” he said.
However, the Homeland Security Department’s request for an initial $1.5 billion this year for the wall has an uncertain path in the Senate, and ranking committee member Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was critical of the agency’s plans to redirect $20 million to pay for the prototypes.
“The department has told us that they plan to use funds intended to acquire remote video surveillance for prototypes of the concrete wall,” she said, describing a visit to the border where agents said they needed more technology. “Technology was the thing that was going to make them better at their job. And now the department is taking money from video surveillance to use for wall prototypes.”.