America's southern border is big news. It's one of President Donald Trump's signature campaign promises — a wall between the United States and Mexico — but progress has been problematic. During his 2020 State of the Union address, Mr. Trump boasted more than 100 new miles of wall, though most of that construction actually replaced older structures.
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.
Credit: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post/Getty Images
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.
Credit: AFP/Getty Images
"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.
Credit: Guillermo Arias/Getty
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.
Credit: Getty Images
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.
Credit: Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty
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.
Credit: Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images
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 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.
Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol via Flickr
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.
Credit: Tim Tucciarone
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.
Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Protection via Flickr
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.
Credit: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol via Flickr
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.