U.S.-Mexico border wall: What it really looks like
A record number of migrant arrivals reported along the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2022 surpassed 2 million in August, an all-time high. The phenomenon was driven in part by unprecedented levels of migration from Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, according to government data.
With Mexico agreeing to work with the U.S. to create smart border technology, the future of what the border might look like is up in the air.
Currently, America's "border wall" is a series of piecemeal barriers that vary in size, shape and age. Sections of "wall" include low fences, high barriers, dividers with steel slats and areas with checkpoints and pedestrian passages. Other parts of the border have no structures at all, demarcated instead by rivers or mountains.
Here's what the U.S.-Mexico border really looks like — both the areas with walls and without.
A border tunnel under the wall
On May 16, 2022, an underground tunnel the length of a football field was discovered under the border wall between Tijuana and San Diego.
Homeland Security Investigations provided this photo to the Associated Press. This tunnel was under one of the most fortified parts of the border wall.
Planting flowers at the beach
This is the end of the border wall on the West Coast in Tijuana, Mexico. The barrier extends all the way out into the Pacific Ocean.
Here, a woman plants flowers on the beach as the sun sets on the Mexican side of the border on April 7, 2022.
Displaced Ukrainians seeking asylum
When Ukraine was attacked by Russia in early 2022, many Ukrainian refugees fled to Mexico to seek asylum at the U.S. border.
U.S. authorities opened the El Chaparral port of entry outside of Tijuana, Mexico, in April 2022 to allow for the processing of Ukrainian refugees specifically. Their humanitarian parole lasts one year.
Texas Army National Guard member on patrol
A member of the Texas Army National Guard is on duty at an opening in the border wall.
In September 2021, thousands of migrants, mostly refugees from Haiti, made camp at a makeshift migrant encampment under a nearby bridge in Del Rio, Texas,, causing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to temporarily close the port of entry there and instead focus more on border patrol.
Unfinished border wall
This unfinished section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in La Joya, Texas, sits in the blazing summer heat in July 2021.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has pledged to use state funding for the completion of the border wall across the state.
Reuniting on the border
A man embraces a female relative in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on June 19, 2021.
The event is part of an annual event that takes place across the Rio Grande called "Hugs Not Walls" in which U.S. migrants are allowed to reunite with their family members on the other side of the border for a few minutes, regardless of their immigration status or circumstances.
National Guard members patrol unfinished sections of the border wall
Unfinished sections of the border wall, such as this one in La Joya, Texas, are often heavily guarded by members of the U.S. National Guard or border control agencies.
In late 2021, migrant border crossing rates fell a bit — only to rise again in 2022.
Two people crossing into the United States
Plans to build two walls along the Tijuana-San Diego border have been underway for several years.
In this August 2021 photo, two people from Mexico cross into the United States at an entry point where both the primary and secondary walls were under construction.
Visitors allowed once again
Migrants aren't the only ones who cross the U.S.-Mexico border. Visitors between the two countries do too.
In this photo, U.S. customs agents at the San Ysidro port of entry check visitors' vaccination cards on November 8, 2021, after the border was reopened to non-essential visitors, all thanks to eased COVID restrictions.
Parents-to-be cross gap in border wall
Haitian migrants, including a pregnant woman and her partner, traveled from South America to reach the United States at the border in Yuma, Arizona, in December 2021.
Yuma saw an increase in migrant crossings that month as many tried to reach U.S. soil before a court ordered the re-implementation of a Trump administration policy that compelled asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico during their immigration court process.
Building a second border
A construction site set up here along the San Diego Sector, where a physical border separates the United States and Mexico, is intended to build a second wall alongside the already-existing border wall in 2019.
This secondary wall was part of President Donald Trump's "Build the Wall" campaign promise and was meant to be stronger and more effective.
A construction crew works on a fallen section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall on January 29, 2020. Newly installed pieces of the wall in Calexico, California, toppled in high winds, landing on trees on the Mexican side of the border.
"We will not pay"
A protester hangs a banner that says "Trump we will not pay for your wall" in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico, on February 2, 2020.
A private project
Workers erect a section of privately built border wall on December 11, 2019 near Mission, Texas. The hardline immigration group We Build The Wall funded the construction. The group is led by former Trump strategist Stephen Bannon.
Protest in paint
Martin, a Mexican migrant, places flowers next to a border fence on November 2, 2019. He he and members of the Coalicion Pro Defensa del Migrante (Coalition for Migrant Defense) painted a graph showing statistics of dead migrants. It appears on the Mexican side of the border in Tijuana, Mexico.
Wall at sunset
In this photo, a boy plays at the beach near the U.S.-Mexico border fence in Playas de Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, in June 2019.
Berlin Wall section at U.S. border
A portion of the Berlin wall sits in front of the United States-Mexico border wall on November 16, 2019 in San Ysidro, California. The 2.7 ton wall section, which features a letter to Donald Trump, was originally sent to the White House and was rejected and was brought to the U.S-Mexico border by Initiative Offene Gesellschaft, a group dedicated to promoting ideas for an open society.
Climbing for fun
A man climbs on the U.S.-Mexico border fence for fun in Playas de Tijuana, Mexico.
Waiting behind a border fence
Migrants stand together along the U.S.-Mexican border fence as they wait to turn themselves over to the U.S. Border Patrol on February 12, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.
Celebrating Independence Day
People gather on the Mexican side of the fence to watch the Fourth of July fireworks in the San Diego Bay.
Waiting to be processed
A 5-year-old Ecuadorian girl waits to be transported with her mother to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing center on September 10, 2019 near Los Ebanos, Texas.
Not exactly a wall
An obelisk and a short metal fence mark the boundary between the United States and Mexico near Calexico, California.
Reaching across borders
On the Mexican side of the fence, a girl from Ciudad Juarez touches hands with a person in the United States through the barrier's slats.
When the river is the border
Mexican National Guard members prevent a Central American woman and a young girl from crossing the Rio Bravo border into the United States on June 21, 2019. In this area, there is no wall; the river acts as a border and, often, a deterrent.
Back to Mexico
The woman and girl were detained by members of Mexican National Guard in Ciudad Juarez.
A car rusts in the sun on the Mexican side of the fence in Tijuana.
An incomplete barrier
A Border Patrol unit sits next to a section of the border fence as it ends near eastern Tijuana.
Bridging a divide with art
In March, 2019, artists on both sides of the border painted murals at the wall between Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso, Texas.
An unlikely playground
American and Mexican families play on a set of seesaws that are pushed through the slats in the barrier between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents block the Paso del Norte International Bridge during a surprise closure of the pedestrian passage between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas.
Another section of border wall
A car drives along the U.S.-Mexico border on February 22, 2019 in Otay Mesa, California.
Officers conduct a drill with tear gas
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers conduct a drill using tear gas on Puente de Las Americas Bridge No. 1, which connects Laredo, Texas with Nuevo Laredo, in Mexico.
Waiting in line
A young boy from Honduras waits in line with his parents at the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, Mexico on September 12, 2019.
Pentagon-funded wall construction
Government contractors erect a section of Pentagon-funded border wall along the Colorado River in Yuma, Arizona. The 30-foot high wall replaces a five-mile section of short fencing, visible in the left side of the frame.
Border Patrol boat
U.S. Border Police guard the Rio Bravo on land and by boat. The river acts as a natural border between Eagle Pass, Texas and Piedras Negras, Mexico.
Touring the border wall
Then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen stands with President Donald Trump as they tour the border wall in Calexico, California on April 5, 2019.
Asylum restrictions take effect
Migrants seeking asylum in the United States are assigned a number at the Civil Registration Office in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. This sign indicates that the last number to enter is 12,552.
On September 11, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed asylum restrictions imposed by the Trump administration to take effect, preventing most Central American migrants from applying at the U.S. border.
On the U.S. side of the fence, a boy holds a sign during a prayer with priests and bishops from both Mexico and the United States. This section of the fence, on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez, was one of the first to be constructed.
Beto O'Rourke speaking at a protest march
Former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke gave a speech at a protest of the border wall in El Paso, Texas in February 2019.
Prototypes for a wall
Construction workers erected prototype models for a secondary border wall in Otay Mesa, California — a smaller wall is already there. The Department of Homeland Security is building 12.5 miles of secondary border wall there.
A Fourth of July prayer
Catholic priests from Latin America, the U.S. and Canada gather to pray for migrants at the border fence in Tijuana, Mexico, on July 4, 2019.
A floating wall
West of Yuma, Arizona, in the Imperial Sand Dunes, old barriers were often buried in sand. This new 15-foot-high border fence "floats" on top of the sand, moving and shifting in the wind without losing any height.
Remain 10 feet away
A sign hangs on the wall separating the United States and Mexico in Calexico, California. It instructs people to stay 10 feet away from the fence.
14 more miles of wall in California
In August 2019, U.S. Border Patrol's Acting San Diego Sector Chief Kathleen Scudder delivered remarks applauding the completion of 14 miles of new border wall construction in San Ysidro. Downtown Tijuana sits just on the other side of the fence.
A self-appointed militia
Jeff Allen and Jim Benvie, plus two men identifying themselves only as Viper and Stinger, share cigarettes while patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border in Sunland Park, New Mexico. These aren't Border Patrol officers; they are a self-appointed militia. Members say they will patrol until a wall is built.
Private citizens patrolling the border
The militia calls itself United Constitutional Patriots New Mexico Border Ops.
Do not enter
Construction workers install panels for approximately 11 miles of new border wall in Calexico, California.
Near the border in New Mexico
A group of about 30 Brazilian migrants who have just crossed the Rio Grande onto private property in New Mexico, sit on the ground while U.S. Border Patrol agents keep watch.
Border Patrol van
The Brazilian migrants get into a U.S. Border Patrol van. They will be driven from the private property where they encountered Border Patrol agents.
Inside a border detention facility
Migrants are detained in a tented, air-conditioned cage at a Border Patrol detention facility in Tornillo, Texas, a small border town in El Paso County.
Caged at the border
Migrant women rest on floor mats inside the detention cage in Tornillo, Texas.
Central American families receive instructions
A U.S. Border Patrol agent gives instructions to families, mostly from Central America, who have just crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico. The families presented themselves to agents in Los Ebanos, Texas.
Counting and confiscating cash
A U.S. Border Patrol agent counts cash brought by an Ecuadorian immigrant after she and her daughter crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico on September 10, 2019.
As standard procedure, border agents confiscate and store personal items, including money, from immigrants when they are taken into custody, to be returned later.
A watchful eye
A high-resolution surveillance camera, manned by U.S. military personnel, scans near the U.S.-Mexico border in Penitas, Texas.
U.S. soldiers deployed to the border assist U.S. Border Patrol agents with surveillance, although troops are not authorized to detain immigrants themselves.
Near the border: Waiting game
Migrants, mostly from Mexico, are pictured sitting on the ground waiting near the Paso del Norte Bridge at the U.S. border crossing in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
Immigration on hold
Before the Supreme Court voted to uphold the Trump administration's asylum restrictions, asylum seekers waited in an encampment near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Mexico. Brownsville, Texas sits on the other side of the bridge.
Patrolling the Rio Grande Valley in Texas
U.S. Border Patrol agents search for undocumented immigrants near the U.S.-Mexico border near Los Ebanos, Texas. Immigrant crossings have dipped in recent months but remain high for the summer.
Searching a cotton field
Border Patrol agents search for undocumented immigrants in a cotton field near the U.S.-Mexico border in Penitas, Texas.
The "Lights for Liberty" protest
People hold a candlelight vigil at the border in Tijuana, Mexico, to protest against U.S. immigration policies and detention conditions.
Hiding in the heat
In June 2019, U.S. Border Patrol agents gave medical aid to an undocumented man from Mexico. He suffered symptoms of heat-related illness while hiding in orange grove in south Texas, agents say.
High temperatures topped 90 degrees every day that month.
Coming to America
In June 2019, a group of more than 100 families crossed the Rio Grande near Los Ebanos, Texas, and turned themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents.