Monday, February 15, 2016

Trump, His Wall, and Making Mexico Pay

“People are pouring across our borders, which is horrible. We have to build a wall... Look, I build some of the greatest buildings in the world. Building a wall for me is easy. And it would be a wall. It would be a real wall. Not a wall that people walk over.”

--Donald Trump

Donald Trump says he will make the Mexican government pay for the construction of a massive wall along the Mexican border. The wall has been a key centerpiece of Trump’s aggressive border security and immigration plan as he seeks the Republican nomination for president.

In order to make Mexico pay, Trump has outlined potential consequences for the country if it refuses to comply, including raising fees on temporary visas and at ports of entry.

In the meantime, Felipe Calderon, the former president of Mexico (2006 to 2012), called Trump’s pledge to build a , calling “stupid” and “useless” and referred to the reality TV billionaire as “not a very well-informed man.” When asked about the wall on CNBC, Calderon replied: “Mexican people, we are not going to pay any single cent for such a stupid wall."

Calderon contends the US would stand to lose if a wall were built: “If this guy pretends that closing the borders to anywhere either for trade or for people is going to provide prosperity to the US, he is completely crazy.”

The ex-president also cites recent data from Pew Research Center, which shows the number of Mexican immigrants living the US illegally has fallen over the years. There were 5.6 million unauthorized immigrants from Mexico living in the US in 2014, which is down about 1 million from the 2007 peak.

(Michelle Coffey. "Mexico won't pay for Trump's 'stupid' wall, ex-president says."
Marketwatch. February 09, 2016.)

Still, Trump says he will build the "artistically beautiful" barrier that will be "taller than any ladder and one foot taller than the Great Wall of China." He speculates: "The wall is probably $8 billion, which is a tiny fraction of the money that we lose with Mexico. We lose a tremendous amount of trade deficits. We have a trade deficit with Mexico that is astronomical, much bigger than that. We will get -- and I say it also is also part of my plan -- Mexico is going to pay for the wall."

How would a President Trump ever get such a bill about a wall through both the Senate and House, given the expenses and politics involved? An examination of the feasibility is necessary.

The Message and Expense of Building a Wall

The wall itself, purely as a visual, “sends a negative message to one of our biggest trade partners, but most [politicians] won’t go through with it because of the massive expense,” said Matt Barreto, professor of political science and Chicana/o studies at UCLA.

It is difficult to pinpoint the cost to build such a wall. News reports estimating the price of a wall have varied widely. The Wall Street Journal estimates that the cost to build it could run into the tens of billions of dollars. The border with Mexico is about 1,900 miles.

Let's examine what we do know. In 2006, federal law required the construction of an approximately 700-mile fence. The border fencing and associated costs added up to about $6 billion as of 2012.

"It’s a lot more expensive than we expected when we started, and it was much more difficult," said Ronald Vitiello, deputy chief of the U.S. Border Patrol for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, before a Senate committee.

For the fence already built, the costs fluctuated depending upon the terrain. A Congressional Research Service report noted in 2009 that the challenges include "costs versus benefits, location, design, environmental impact, potential diplomatic ramifications, and the costs of acquiring the land needed for construction."

According to Taxpayers for Common Sense, the average mile of border wall costs taxpayers $4.5 million, an average mile of vehicle barrier $1.6 million. In some places the cost of construction has exceeded $12 million per mile.

("Fence Costs Out of Bounds." Taxpayers for Common Sense. April 27, 2009.)

It is apparent the cost for Donald Trump's proposed wall will run extremely high. Media reports to complete such a wall rang from $5.1 billion to $25 billion — plus additional costs to maintain it.

(Amy Sherman. "Donald Trump says of course Mexico can pay for wall -- because of the trade deficit. PolitiFact. Tampa Bay Times. January 26, 2016.)
A wall right up against the Rio Grande, the river that provides water for the roughly 7 plus million people that live on either side of the border from El Paso to Brownsville, would likely impede water flow and effectively create what amounts to water being dammed up.

Gary Jacobs claims: "Not only would the water back up, all the debris like rotten wood and tree branches will leave areas looking like hundreds of beaver dams. If our government is planning on leaving spaces where these waterways exist to let water flow naturally, then people could get through too… if that’s true, what’s the point of a fence?"

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