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Pro-Trump Lawmaker Says 'Build A Wall' Doesn't Exactly Mean A Wall

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U.S. Border Patrol officers keep watch at a the border fence separating U.S. and Mexico in the town of El Paso, Texas.

How would Donald Trump's most attention-grabbing promises become reality?

One answer came from one of the members of Congress who would face the task of actually enacting the promises. He's Tom Marino, Republican of Pennsylvania, who recently became one of the first prominent Republicans to endorse Trump for president. Marino's answer: on one key issue, Trump doesn't literally mean what he says.

"It doesn't have to be a brick-and-mortar wall here," Marino told NPR's Morning Edition. "We're talking about technology that we have that can sense people's movements," as well as additional border guards.

It was a striking position for Marino to take. He appeared to be interpreting Trump's border policy as no radical departure. It sounded instead like an amplification of the policy the United States already pursues.

Recent administrations, including that of President Obama, have built fences or concrete walls along hundreds of miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. A casual drive along that border will reveal radar-carrying blimps and other signs of sensor technology already deployed. Marino said it hasn't been enough.

The Obama administration, especially in its early years, reported that it substantially increased the number of deportations of people caught in the U.S. illegally — so much so that immigrants' rights groups fiercely complained.

Conservative critics nevertheless insisted that Obama had not gone nearly far enough, complaining that the wall must be higher, and cover the entire border.

Trump captured this sentiment from his campaign's first day, describing many Mexican migrants as "rapists" who were "bringing crime," and vowing to build "a great wall" to seal the border, which Mexico would pay for. Responding to claims that this was wildly impractical given the border landscape, he spoke of his skill as a builder. In a February debate, Trump responded to Mexican criticism by saying: "The wall just got 10 feet taller, believe me. "

Yet while his rhetoric remains fierce, Marino's description better captures Trump's most recent stance. To little notice, he has quietly refined his original idea. In the same February debate, for example, Trump did not speak of a wall along the entire 1,900 mile border. "We need 1,000," he said, "because we have a lot of natural barriers."

This view is strikingly similar to that of current U.S. officials, who have built roughly 700 miles of walls and fences, relying on natural barriers to block the rest.

Listen to some of the Morning Edition discussion with Congressman Marino and Republican strategist Mark McKinnon.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

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