The reality of Trump’s wall draws closer


Kian Nassre

Infographic comparing the costs of various government programs to Trump’s wall by Kian Nassre, Head of Infographics.

 “The wall is getting designed right now,” said President Donald Trump on February 8, 2017. Trump pledged to build a wall on the U.S. – Mexico border throughout his presidential campaign. Now, the U.S. government is officially seeking contractors and designs as the feasibility of Trump’s wall remains under debate.

  On September 14, 2015, Trump projected the cost of the wall to be $4 billion. On January 26, 2017, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cited the cost of the wall to be $12 to $15 billion.

  On February 9, 2017, Reuters reported that the Department of Homeland Security had provided them with a report citing the wall’s cost at $21.6 billion. The report breaks down construction of the wall into three phases that would take place over three and a half years. The first phase is 26 miles of wall near several big cities, the second phase is a more expensive 151 miles close to several other cities near the border, and the final phase is a largely unknown 1,080 miles that seal off the majority of the remaining border.

  Contrary to Trump’s assertions, the financial analysis firm Bernstein Research estimated Trump’s wall could cost as much as $25 billion. The report considered additional construction variables such as the obstacles of the deserts of Arizona, jagged mountain ranges of New Mexico, and the Rio Grande river along the Texas border which each pose unique difficulties. In addition, the analysis notes that portions of the border are privately owned. These would have to be purchased or annexed using eminent domain to complete construction the wall.

  Previously, former President George W. Bush signed the 2006 Secure Fence Act into existence, which proposed the creation of a border fence for roughly 650 miles, around one third, of the US-Mexico border. In a recent article about Trump’s wall, World Net Daily reported that in 2006, Congress initially appropriated $1.2 billion to close off the third of the border with the least terrain obstacles. According to the BBC article, “Donald Trump’s Mexico wall: Who is going to pay for it?,” from February 9, 2017, the completion of that third has already cost the taxpayers $7 billion.

  During a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in May of 2015, Ronald Vitiello, Deputy Chief of Border Patrol for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said, “It’s a lot more expensive than we expected when we started, and it was much more difficult.”

  The issue arises, how will the wall be payed for? As early as the announcement of his candidacy, Trump said, “I’ll build a great, great wall on our southern border and I will have Mexico pay for that wall.”

  In response, Mexican Treasury Secretary Luis Videgaray told Mexican broadcaster Milenio TV, “There is no scenario in which Mexico will pay for this wall that is being proposed.” Since then Trump has altered his statement, saying the taxpayers would pay for the wall but Mexico would reimburse them. He made this claim as recently as January 25, 2017, but it has also since been rebutted by the Mexican government.

  In the same article from February 9, 2017, the BBC pointed out several methods by which Trump could acquire the money besides an appropriation from Congress. One would be to tax border crossings and increase visa costs, but this probably would not raise enough on its own. Trump has previously suggested taxing or blocking remittances from the US to Mexico, but according to that same article there are 3rd party cash transfers that can be used to undermine this method.

  Additionally, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer suggested placing a tariff on Mexican imports during a press conference on January 26, 2017. This would raise more than enough money, but could also initiate a trade war according to the same BBC article. Where a trade war to occur, Mexico may  begin selling its exports elsewhere and removing tax breaks for US foreign investment. More importantly, according to CNBC, a trade war would damage the economies of states relying on international trade, many of which voted for Trump.

  Finally, there is the possibility of a border adjustment tax (BAT) which, according to a CNN article from February 27, 2017, is a popular approach to tax reform among house Republicans. The article said that A BAT would adjust corporate taxation to reward companies that produce in America while punishing those that produce elsewhere and import to America. Its popularity stems from the desire to bring jobs back to the US. Yet, unless the dollar’s value rose dramatically, a BAT would cause consumer costs to skyrocket. The US could be sued by other countries through the World Trade Organization for imposing a BAT.

  According to Trump, a wall would be justified despite all these concerns because, as he said on June 16, 2015, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

  A Pew Research statistical report from November 29, 2016 indicates similar anti-immigrant sentiments are abundant among Trump voters. According to the report, 79% of Trump voters said undocumented immigration was a “very big” problem in the United States, and the same percent supported construction of a wall.

  By contrast, Urban School Spanish teacher Mary Lee said, “California could not be the largest source of food for the country if it wasn’t for the immigrant labor that is coming from the border … even in some of the most racially motivated immigration laws … such as the ban on Chinese immigration … they always let the border between Mexico and the United States be open.”

  “[Discussion of the wall] has created a lot of emotional turmoil throughout the whole country, and so in terms of the representative power of the wall, what the wall signifies, let’s just say it doesn’t do anything good for our country, not for its citizens, not for the people living in the country, and not for the United States’ relations with other nations,” said Lee.

  “It criminalizes human lives and human bodies; it criminalizes a process, a journey, that often is motivated by basic human needs. So it’s a humanitarian issue as well as an economic one,” said Lee.