“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me — and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.” — Then-candidate for president Donald Trump.
Trump’s promise to build a wall (and for Mexico to pay for it) has been stated repeatedly along the campaign trail and over the first two years of his presidency. Yet, it is an implausible promise. Trump has repeatedly and grossly underestimated the cost and logistics of building 1,954 miles of wall, especially across the terrain that makes up the U.S./Mexico border.
There are numerous complexities to the project. First, there are the environmental hurdles and waivers. The border is rich with ecological diversity, home to rare and endangered species, and serves as an important migration corridor for many types of wildlife. The wall fragments open lands and threatens the breeding patterns of various animal species; restricts access to safe water supplies; and, with harmful lighting, these barriers can even wipe out important pollinators like butterflies. Surely, there will be legal challenges that restrict building certain parts of the wall for decades.
Secondly, because much of the land is privately owned, the federal government would need to employ eminent domain to acquire the necessary parcels. Land seizures, even for Uncle Sam, aren’t easily done. Several lawsuits are still pending from when President George W. Bush had attempted to build border fencing more than a decade ago.
That’s right — this isn’t a new idea. Trump’s “border wall” has been attempted before. In 2006, Congress authorized building 700 miles of border fencing. That fencing was never completely built. The Department of Homeland Security determined that technology and an increase in border patrol officers were the desired approach to border security.
Thirdly, if a wall were built, it would likely devastate the economies of U.S. border cities and harm the U.S. economy overall. For example, in the city of El Paso, Texas, cross-border trade supports more than 100,000 jobs and helps contribute more than $2.3 billion to the local economy, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. In many of these towns, Mexican citizens cross over regularly to shop. These cities see the border not as a fence, but as a gateway.
With all these negative consequences, why is our president so arrogantly insisting on the wall, especially when border agents on the front lines favor technology and additional border patrol personnel? And even as the majority of Americans do not consider the wall a priority and favor the president compromising rather than shutting the government down?
Trump’s own incoming chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, has called his border wall proposal “simplistic,” “absurd” and “almost childish.”
Rather than seeking the advice of his advisers and cabinet members, Trump is turning to conservative cacklers like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh for guidance.
Of course, this wall is not about national security or immigration control. It is a costly symbol of the intolerance that Trump and his base have for immigrants and those seeking asylum in this country. It’s also likely another grand structure on which Trump can plaster his name.
No one argues that border security should be a priority. However, most Americans believe an archaic wall isn’t the answer. Technology, border patrol and much-needed immigration reform would be far more effective and less costly.
Trump made an ill-fated and unsound campaign promise. Yet, instead of acknowledging the obvious and putting nation above politics, Trump appeases and placates his followers. No doubt his supporters will blame the minority party, even though Republicans have control of all three branches, and despite Trump himself telling Democratic leaders he, and he alone, would take the blame for the budget impasse.
So here we are, in the middle of a federal shutdown over a wall that border security personnel do not want and would not only provide little benefit but cause economic and environmental harm. Meanwhile, Trump’s shutdown is inhibiting the very agencies in charge of our nation’s security: Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol. And oh, yeah … wasn’t Mexico supposed to pay for the wall?
(Faraguna is a founding member of Susquehanna Valley Progress, which provides a “Working for Progress” column every other week.)