Reveal explores the political, logistical and geographic barriers that could get in the way of President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Credit: Michael I Schiller, Reveal

President Donald Trump wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico. Hundreds of miles of fence are already in place along that border, but there are no barriers on most of its nearly 2,000 miles. This episode of Reveal explores the political, logistical and geographic barriers that could get in the way of the president’s plan.

We focus first on where the physical barriers are. Applications developer Michael Corey created a digital map of every mile based on open source mapping tools and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. He joins reporter Katharine Mieszkowski at the boundary between Texas and Mexico, where they explore where the border is (and isn’t), where additional walls could go up and where problems are most likely to happen.

From there, reporter Andrew Becker takes us on a tour of the California-Mexico border, where a Border Patrol agent describes how the fence has changed the landscape between the two countries and a veteran human smuggler in Tijuana explains why a fence doesn’t matter. Becker also travels to the Arizona border to interview a rancher who says the government needs to get serious about border security — but a wall may not be the answer. 

So that led us to we ask: Even if a wall is built, will it matter? Other countries have erected similar barriers. Trump often points to Israel for proof that walls can keep unwanted people out. Israeli companies that make high-tech border barriers are eyeing the U.S. government as a potential huge new customer. Reporter Emily Harris, with help from producer Mark Baker, looks closely at Israel’s walls to determine whether they succeed in doing what Trump claims they do.

Finally, we consider the potential toll of a wall on wildlife and human beings.

Conservationists have conducted a handful of small studies on the effects of the border fences on wildlife. They all found the same thing: By chopping up habitats, these barriers make it harder for animals to find food, water and mates. Our story is from Texas Tribune reporters Kiah Collier and Neena Satija.  

And through the story of a man who went missing as he tried to cross into the U.S. via a remote desert without a fence, reporter Stan Alcorn examines the consequences of such barriers for people on both sides of the border.

Dig Deeper

  • Explore: The Wall, our interactive map of the U.S.-Mexico border fence
  • Read: The deadliest route to the American dream
  • Follow: Scientists say Trump’s border wall would devastate wildlife
  • Listen: What the U.S.-Mexico border sounds like


Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

  • Camerado-Lightning, “True Game (Reveal show theme)” from n/a (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Boards of Canada, “New Seeds” from Tomorrow’s Harvest (Warp)
  • Masayoshi Fujita, “Deers” from Stories (Flau)
  • Christopher Willits, “New Life” from Tiger Flower Circle Sun (Ghostly International)
  • KILN, “Boro” from meadow:watt (Ghostly International)
  • Ben Benjamin, “Fear of Silence” from For Long Drives And Temporary Diversions (Ghostly International)
  • Ben Benjamin, “The Is Why We Rock” from For Long Drives And Temporary Diversions (Ghostly International)
  • Jim Briggs, “Killer Drums” from n/a (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jim Briggs, “Bring on” from n/a (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Ben Benjamin, “Hirsute Airport (Instrumental)” from The Many Moods of Ben Benjamin Vol. 1.5 (Ghostly International)
  • Ben Benjamin, “Field Mice” from n/a (Ghostly International)
  • Ben Benjamin, “Hirsute Airport (Instrumental)” from The Many Moods of Ben Benjamin Vol. 1.5 (Ghostly International)
  • Arthur Russell, “Instrumentals C” from First Thought Best Thought (Audika Records)
  • Philip Guyler, “Organic Wonderland” from n/a (Audio Network)
  • Richard Lacy / Richard Kimmings, “Ice Houses” from n/a (Audio Network)
  • Philip Guyler, “Organic Wonderland” from n/a (Audio Network)
  • David O’Brien / Paul Clarvis, “Water Carrier” from n/a (Audio Network)
  • Terry Devine-King / Tom Jenkins, “Skywriter” from n/a (Audio Network)
  • Camerado-Lightning, “True Game (Reveal show theme)” from n/a (Cut-Off Man Records)

Julia B. Chan worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until June, 2017. Julia B. Chan is a producer and the digital editor for Reveal's national public radio program. She’s the voice of Reveal online and manages the production and curation of digital story assets that are sent to more than 200 stations across the country. Previously, Chan helped The Center for Investigative Reporting launch YouTube’s first investigative news channel, The I Files, and led engagement strategies – online and off – for multimedia projects. She oversaw communications, worked to better connect CIR’s work with a bigger audience and developed creative content and collaborations to garner conversation and impact.

Before joining CIR, Chan worked as a Web editor and reporter at the San Francisco Examiner. She managed the newspaper’s digital strategy and orchestrated its first foray into social media and online engagement. A rare San Francisco native, she studied broadcasting at San Francisco State University, focusing on audio production and recording. Chan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior reporter and producer for Reveal. She's also been a senior writer for Salon and Fast Company. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Slate and on NPR's "All Things Considered."

Her coverage has won national awards, including the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award two years in a row, an Online News Association Award, a Webby Award and a Society of Environmental Journalists Award. Mieszkowski has a bachelor's degree from Yale University. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Michael Corey is a former senior data editor. He led a team of data journalists who seek to distill large datasets into compelling and easily understandable stories using the tools of journalism, statistics and programming. His specialties include mapping, the U.S.-Mexico border, scientific data and working with remote sensing. Corey's work has been honored with an Online Journalism Award, an Emmy Award, a Polk Award, an IRE Medal and other national awards. He previously worked for the Des Moines Register and graduated from Drake University.

Neena Satija is a radio reporter and producer for Reveal. She is based in The Texas Tribune newsroom in Austin, Texas. Previously, she was an environment reporter for The Texas Tribune, and before that, worked for Connecticut Public Radio. Her reporting on the vulnerability of the Connecticut shoreline won a national award from the Society of Environmental Journalists. Neena grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., and graduated from Yale University in 2011.

Emily Harris is a former senior reporter and producer for Reveal. She previously served as an NPR international correspondent, based first in Berlin and later in Jerusalem. Her 2016 series on Israelis and Palestinians changing their minds about some aspect of their conflict won the Overseas Press Club’s Lowell Thomas Award, and her 2014 coverage of Gaza was honored with an Overseas Press Club citation. She also was part of the NPR team that won a 2004 Peabody Award for coverage in Iraq. Harris lived in and reported from Russia during the upheaval of the 1990s. In the U.S., she covered a range of beats for NPR’s Washington desk and reported jointly for NPR and PBS’ “Now” with Bill Moyers. Harris helped start and host “Think Out Loud,” a daily public affairs talk show on Oregon Public Broadcasting. She worked to evaluate and share new financial models for journalism as editorial director of the Journalism Accelerator startup. She’s drafted a screenplay about relationships born in war and collects audio stories of awful and mind-changing moments in people’s lives. Harris was based in Portland, Oregon.

Stan Alcorn is a former senior reporter and producer for Reveal. His radio work at Reveal has won awards including a Peabody Award, several Online Journalism Awards, an NABJ Salute to Excellence Award, and a Best of the West Award, as well as making him a finalist for a Livingston Award for Young Journalists. He previously was a reporter for Marketplace, covering business and economic news – from debit card fees levied on the formerly incarcerated to the economic impact of Beyoncé's hair. He has helped launch new shows at Marketplace, Slate, and WNYC; contributed research to books by journalists at Time and CNBC; and reported for outlets including NPR, PRI's The World, 99% Invisible, WNYC, FiveThirtyEight, Fast Company, High Country News, Narratively, and Digg.

Cheryl Devall is a senior radio editor at Reveal. She is a native Californian with Louisiana roots from which storytelling runs deep. As an editor and correspondent, she's worked for the Daily World in Opelousas, Louisiana (the birthplace of zydeco music); Southern California Public Radio; National Public Radio; “Marketplace;” The Mercury News in San Jose, California; and the Chicago Tribune. Devall has shared in three Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards for coverage of AIDS and black America, the 1992 Los Angeles riots and North Carolina 40 years after the federal war on poverty. She's based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.