As we move into the Donald Trump presidency, all eyes are on whether he will be able to keep some of his key campaign promises. Perhaps one of the most popular among his supporters was his plan to build a wall along the southern US/Mexican border in an attempt to stop illegal immigrants and drugs from flowing into the United States. It’s a proposal that has given many Americans a sense of security. In this article though, I’d like to dive deeper into the practicality of building the wall and explain why it is actually a waste of time and money.
1. It Is Extremely Expensive
Anytime a politician proposes such a drastic building project, questions about cost are inevitable. Trump was wildly inconsistent during the campaign about cost, giving different numbers ranging from $4-12 billion. So let’s take a look at just how much this border wall would cost to build.
Trump said during the campaign that he would build around 1,000 miles of wall along the southern border that would be made out of steel and rebar. Now, in order to estimate just how much it would cost, we would need to know the height of the wall. Unfortunately, Trump has been unclear on that, suggesting numbers anywhere from 35-90 feet tall. So let’s just work with his most conservative estimate at a 35 foot tall border wall.
With about 1,000 miles of wall along the border made out of the materials that Trump said we would need (rebar and steel), at a 35 foot tall wall, according to one Washington Post construction economist, it would cost around:
- $10B for concrete panels
- $5-6B for steel columns to hold those panels
- $1B for concrete footing and foundation
- $2B to build roads to transport supplies
- $7-8B for engineering, design, and management, including labor
So we are now up to around $25B. We’re already $13B over Trump’s largest estimate. This doesn’t even include the fact that the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the costs of maintaining the wall would surpass the cost of building it in just 7 years. So that’s $25B just to build the wall, plus an additional $25B for maintenance every 7 years. Some experts have estimated that maintenance for certain parts of the wall could cost up to $1.7B per MILE annually depending on materials. This shows that the wall is a very expensive project that is just going to cost more and more over time.
2. No, Mexico Isn’t Going To Pay For The Wall
With the cost in mind, one of the responses Trump gave over and over again was that he was going to make Mexico pay for the wall whether it be through a direct payment, or most likely, through some sort of tax. Aside from the fact that Mexico’s finance minister said that Mexico is “under no circumstance” going to pay for the wall, we also have NAFTA that doesn’t allow Trump to do that through any sort of tax. And while there has been lots of talk about renegotiating NAFTA, it would have to be agreed upon by the Mexican government so any plans to have Mexico pay or reimburse the US for a border wall seems out of the question at this moment.
But still, Trump claims that Mexico will pay for the wall because the US has a $58B trade deficit with Mexico. He’s not even wrong. The United States did end 2015 with a $58B deficit. Where he is wrong though, is the fact that the $58B doesn’t belong to the Mexican government. It belongs to Mexican businesses so no, there’s no correlation there either. At best, the wall will be built using congressional funds levied on American tax payers.
3. The Rio Grande
Many people don’t realize that putting up a border wall is actually a lot more difficult than it sounds. When you think about where to put a border wall, your instincts will tell you “on the border” but there’s one key overhead that would prohibit that from ever happening: The Rio Grande.
In 2006, President George W Bush signed the Secure Fence Act. It called for 700 miles of fencing along the border and it passed with mostly bipartisan support. That fence though, ran into a multitude of problems, mainly, the Rio Grande. A 1970 treaty between the United States and Mexico states that you cannot build anything that may cause “obstruction of normal flow of the river.”
4. It Won’t Stop Illegal Immigration
I am shocked that more people don’t realize this. According to one Pew Research study, nearly 50% of all undocumented migrants enter legally by airplanes or border crossings with visas that they then overstayed. A wall cannot, and will not stop that from happening. As for the other 50% who are crossing the border where a wall would be placed, many border patrol agents say that if you build a 35 foot tall wall, it is just going to create a market for a 36 foot tall ladder.
5. It Doesn’t Stop Drugs Either
Not only are there many sophisticated tunnels that Mexican cartels have dug underground from where a wall might be, but even where there aren’t, drug dealers have made makeshift catapults and cannons that shoot drugs over the fence. Other smugglers have kept it even simpler by finding someone who can do their best Tom Brady impersonation and just throw it over the fence. The truth of the matter is, cartels know their way over, through, and even underneath any wall that Trump may want to build.
6. The Potential Effect On The Environment
Another impact of the 2006 Secure Fence Act signed by President Bush was the waived environmental protections in the Rio Grande Valley. Once that bill was enacted, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff gave his department the authority to discard 36 laws to build the fence. Among those laws were the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act. These laws being waived had a horrific impact on the local survival of jaguars, prong horns, owls, and many other endangered species in the region. And as for the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act being waived, one Native American chairman named Ned Norris Jr. gave a horrifying account of tribal graves being destroyed as a result of the fence being built.
“Fragments of human remains were found in heavy equipment tracks on the Christian Ranch Archaeological Site…imagine a bulldozer in your family graveyard.”
The mere phrase “fragments of human remains were found” is chilling and scary in a horror movie. It’s even more polarizing knowing that it happened in real life on American soil just to build a fence that hasn’t even been effective. Now while there hasn’t been much talk about whether Trump and his cabinet will waive any of the same laws, the scary reality is that it’s very possible that they might have to in order to build those roads needed to transport heavy equipment to build the wall.
So What Now?
For many people, this border wall plan is something that makes them feel more secure and that’s understandable. I think the majority of us can agree that national security should be one of our government’s top priorities. But when you dive deeper into different literatures and studies, you’ll find that immigrants are LESS crime prone than their American counterparts. Too many times people on the left have this stigma attached to all immigrants, not just Mexicans, that they are dangerous individuals who pose a threat toward American culture and jobs. You may be of the opinion that if people want to come to the United States, they should do it legally and I can’t even fault you for saying that. Ideally, I’d say most everyone wants that. At the same time though, we have to take a step back and ask ourselves if a border wall is the answer. Based on the practicality and ethicacy of the whole project, I say not at all.