Trump wants a wall; border experts want a fence

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Workers continue work raising a taller fence in the Mexico-US border separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017.  (AP Photo/Christian Torres) Workers continue work raising a taller fence in the Mexico-US border separating the towns of Anapra, Mexico and Sunland Park, New Mexico, Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Christian Torres)

By Scott Bronstein, Curt Devine, Drew Griffin CNN Investigations 

(CNN) -- President Trump wants a wall along the border with Mexico.

Career officials at the agencies most involved in the process, however, are set to recommend a fence---one that will cover only about half the length, CNN has learned.

CNN spoke to more than two dozen sources and experts, including some who are part of high level discussions with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

While no plan has been approved or finalized, DHS is currently working on recommendations that Secretary John Kelly will present to Trump.

President Trump has been looking at various blueprints with his advisers, a senior administration official told CNN. He could ultimately insist on a concrete wall stretching across the entire border, as he has promised. It would be a far bigger and a vastly more expensive project, and any plan would need to be sent to Congress for funding approval.

A preliminary internal report by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), viewed by CNN, outlines various options in phases and uses the words "fence" and "wall/fence."

It also includes a final phase calling for covering more than 1,080 additional miles of border with new barriers which would stretch from coast to coast, with a price tag of $21.6 billion. But sources called that option "only fantasy," and said it is not being seriously considered by officials close to the discussions within the Department of Homeland Security.

Other phases or proposals in the internal report were far more modest, and cheaper.

One senior U.S. Border Patrol official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told CNN that it's crucial to be able to see through a border barrier. "I'm not calling it a wall because we are talking about a fence that we can look through. That's what we need."

Another senior U.S. Border Patrol official told CNN, "I think fencing has worked for us in the past, but you never want to have a barrier in place that will obstruct your vision, that prevents you from seeing the other side of the border."

Any White House push for a full-length concrete wall would receive little support from career officials within CBP, according to Seth Stodder, a former DHS official who focused on border security under the Obama and Bush administrations. "These are law enforcement agencies. When the White House says 'Jump,' they will say 'How high?' But there will be whispers from them to Congress saying not to do this," Stodder told CNN.

Some sources told CNN one of the biggest challenges will be convincing the president to modify his campaign promise of a solid wall structure. "It's going to be made of hardened concrete, and it's going to be made out of rebar, and steel," Trump said at a December 2015 rally. He repeated the assertion most recently at a news conference in January of this year when he shot back at a reporter who asked him about the fence: "On the fence---it's not a fence. It's a wall. You just misreported it. We're going to build a wall."

Sources tell CNN Trump's vision of a concrete wall is unrealistic, because of cost, timing, and safety.

As one official put it: After the experts convince Trump the wall will not work and it will be a fence, "the White House will just have to figure out a way to spin it [to the public.]"

A concrete wall also poses environmental problems, such as flood risks and hazards for endangered species.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond, Rene Marsh, and Nathaniel Meyersohn contributed to this report.

Click here to read the full CNN report.

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