To kickstart President Donald Trump’s campaign pledge to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, six contractors are building eight prototypes of concrete and other materials in San Diego County.
Meanwhile, a USA Today investigation covering the entire 2,000-mile route revealed the daunting aspects of Trump’s proposal, which he estimated at $10 billion to $12 billion.
The president must surmount numerous obstacles. For starters, only 69 of the 292 House Republicans told USA TODAY they support the project. In addition, it faces inevitable delays and significant costs regarding land acquisition, and must traverse hostile remote terrain ranging from a meandering river to rugged mountains to shifting desert sands.
The border currently is nearly wide open with only 640 miles of fencing — 300 miles to block vehicles, 340 miles to block people.
While Trump advocated a concrete structure 20- to 40-feet high, his administration has recently talked about an 18-foot bollard wall.
Testifying before Congress in April, then Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly didn’t offer any clues. “There is no way I can give the committee an estimate of how much this will cost,” Kelly said. “I mean, I don’t know what it will be made of. I don’t know how high it will be. I don’t know if it will have solar panels.”
The length also is unknown. During the campaign, Trump said it would be along the entire border, but gradually shrank it to 1,000 miles, then 700 miles. “You have the mountains. You have some rivers that are violent and vicious. You have some areas that are so far away that you don’t really have people crossing. So you don’t need that,” he said.
Back in 2009, following the passage of the 2006 Secure Fences Act, which provided funding for all but 119 miles of the current fence, the General Accounting Office produced an estimate for the 1,200-mile Texas-Mexico border. With a tall, steel bollard-slat fence, it placed the cost between $6.5 million and $15.1 million per mile. The total cost for just that stretch would have been $7.8 billion.
Trump’s first-phase budget request was $24.5 million per mile. Extrapolated along the entire border, that’s $46.5 billion, which doesn’t include logistical problems.
It can’t be built in the middle of the Rio Grande. The current fence is built either on levees or a mile away. A “floating fence” was built on Southern California sand dunes to accommodate their natural movements.
Most of the border is in remote rugged mountain or desert areas far from existing roads, which would need to be built to transport construction workers, 30,000-pound slabs of precast concrete, cement mixers and cranes.
Then there’s the matter of acquiring land from private parties. As part of the Secure Fence Act, federal officials need to buy — or seize — 4,900 parcels of land in Texas. It’s been expensive and time consuming thus far, resulting in 320 condemnation cases settled for between $100 for an easement and $5 million for six acres. Nine years late, 85 cases are still contested.
Its effectiveness is questionable.
After the construction of the bollard wall along the California-Mexico border, smugglers built more than 20 “super tunnels” — some are 70-feet underground — and equipped them with lighting and ventilation systems along wood-beamed passageways.
They also went around with boats on the coast and over in ultralight aircraft.
Much of the smuggling of people and narcotics occurs at existing border crossings. Meanwhile, more than 600,000 people who entered the U.S. legally in 2016 overstayed their visas — an issue a wall won’t resolve.
The estimated unauthorized immigrant population in the U.S. soared from 1990, when it was about 3.5 million, to a peak of 12.2 million in 2007, just prior to the Great Recession. It has gradually, if not substantially, declined since.
According to the Pew Research Center, the number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States fell from 11.3 million in 2009 to 11 million in 2015. The biggest decline was from Mexico, dropping from 6.35 million to 5.7 million.
This August, perhaps owing to the president’s rhetoric against immigrants, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported apprehensions dropped by 24 percent from the prior year.
Another big factor has been beefing up the Border Patrol, which now has 18,600 agents watching the southern border — triple the number in 1996 — along with cameras and motion sensors that didn’t exist then.
Whatever one thinks of the benefits or problems regarding immigration (legal or not), the political reality is much needed reforms in the present system won’t occur until a congressional majority is assured effective security is in place.
Congress shouldn’t hastily approve the wall — whatever its composition and length — until a cost-benefit analysis is undertaken. More effective and inexpensive approaches should be considered.