President Trump's proposed wall with Mexico will kick off in the San Diego border community of Otay Mesa, U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed Monday.
The community is home to one of two border crossings in San Diego and will be the site where 20 chosen bidders will erect prototypes of the envisioned wall. Winners will be selected around June 1, the agency said.
While funding for the massive infrastructure project is still not set, up to 450 companies submitted designs last week. The agency's bid said roughly 20 companies will be selected to build the prototypes — 30 feet long and up to 30 feet high.
The models will be built on a roughly quarter-mile strip of federal land within 120 feet of the border, said a U.S. official with knowledge of the plans quoted by the Associated Press.
Border Patrol spokesman Ralph DeSio did not say exactly where the construction will take place, saying only that it would occur in the Otay Mesa area. He added that plans were subject to change.
Of the possible border locations in the region, building the prototypes near the Otay Mesa crossing makes the most sense because it allows companies to test out designs in a heavily trafficked area that still has room and flexibility, according to Eric Frost, director of San Diego State University's graduate program in homeland security.
Frost, interviewed before the location was confirmed by the federal agency, said Otay Mesa would be a better place to start than the desert to the east or near a river — often empty locales.
"A lot of trucks already use it," he said of the Otay Mesa crossing. "You want to look at how they actually interact with the fence."
Construction of the models, which will likely take place in June, may attract protesters, but law enforcement officials said they were committed to supporting 1st Amendment rights.
"As part of our community policing philosophy, we work closely with any party or group that wishes to express their views in a law-abiding manner," San Diego police spokesman Lt. Scott Wahl said in a statement.
Officials declined to say if officers or deputies would be on site while the construction takes place, but made clear the location will be monitored by law enforcement agencies and Customs and Border Protection.
Security was already an issue for companies bidding on the wall. In a Q&A on FedBizOpps, the federal contracts website, some bidders asked what would happen if employees came under attack during construction, if they could use firearms in states with stricter gun laws and if the government would provide legal assistance if they had to use deadly force.
Customs and Border Protection officials said it would respond if needed to an attack, but that companies were responsible for their own security. The agency also would not waive state gun laws or provide legal support for deadly force.
Beyond just prototypes, CNN said it reviewed documents revealing that wall construction could start in San Diego. The initial $999-million request would fund 14 miles of new wall along the city's border with Mexico, 28 miles of new levee wall barriers and six miles of new border wall in the Rio Grande Valley region. The request would also cover 14 miles of replacement fencing in San Diego, CNN said.
Frost said San Diego would be a good place to start the wall, as opposed to Texas, where rivers and private property will likely complicate construction. Those locations are also a long way from resources needed for building.
"You're not spending all your transportation out to nowhere," he said.
Frost added the wall could be a benefit to both nations if, for example, it helps alleviate notoriously slow wait times for trucks crossing through Otay Mesa. He envisions an "intelligent wall" with sensors and wireless technology that can start tracking trucks before they reach a border guard, speeding up the process to move goods between the two nations.
"There's a positive in here, if you can design a wall that works way better," Frost said.
Funding for the wall has not been secured. Trump said during the election that Mexico would pay for the wall but has since sought out federal money. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that in a recent meeting with Mexico Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray, they did not discuss Mexico paying for the wall.