A border wall is impossible, even if it were necessary

$5.7 billion toward a wall will not change anything


Alvin Buyinza/Collegian

By Sarah Almstrom, Collegian Columnist

A month into the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, President Trump has offered Democrats a compromise: pay for the construction of the border wall, and he will concede an extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Service immigration programs.

Of course, he will only protect the programs for three more years, after which there is no guarantee. In exchange, Democrats must allocate $5.7 billion to a wall.

Since the beginning of his candidacy, Trump has made many claims about this wall, perhaps most notably that Mexico would pay for it. This, obviously, has not happened. And now Democrats must decide whether the American people should pay instead.

They currently are refusing the offer, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling the proposal a “non-starter.”

In his speech on Sunday, Trump claimed the wall “will save many lives and stop drugs from pouring into our country.” This of course followed his long-term rhetoric of an immigration “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border.

This so-called “crisis,” however, simply does not exist.

The fact remains that illegal border crossings from Mexico have been on a steady decline over the past two decades, hitting its lowest point in 2017. Recent studies have concluded that a majority of illegal immigration cases are due to overstayed visas, not outright border hopping.

A wall, of course, will do nothing to prevent this. And it won’t stop drugs, either.

Research has repeatedly shown that cartels prefer to travel through official checkpoints as opposed to crossing unregulated parts of the border. Traffickers focus their efforts into concealing illicit goods from security, rather than spreading their resources across the desert. Any effort to close off stretches in between legal ports of entry, then, will not prevent drugs from entering the U.S. from Mexico.

Trump has also claimed that the “unprotected” border is a terrorism threat. This too is inaccurate. In reality, not a single Mexican or Central American has “committed or planned to commit an attack on U.S. soil since 1975,” whether they have entered the country legally or not. This focus on terrorism at the border ignores a far more serious threat to national security, which comes from internal sources. Last year, FBI director Christopher Wray stated that the “the primary terrorist threat to the homeland here today, without question, is homegrown violent extremists.”

With this in mind, the difficulties that would be faced when actually constructing a wall do not seem worth the effort.

To begin with, just the initial stage of gaining ownership of the necessary land could take years. Only a third of the building location is owned by Native American tribes or the government – the rest is controlled by private property owners and states. Eminent domain fights with property owners, ones who may not want their property divided in half by a steel border, will be expensive, as George H.W. Bush learned following fence construction in 2008.

If all the necessary land is eventually acquired, the geography itself will provide additional challenges. Each of the hundreds of different soil types present along the border create unique difficulties for construction. It would be impossible to even build directly on top of many of them.

This will make construction problematic, especially when the border stretches over 1,930 miles. Between long construction requirements and enormous upkeep demands, these difficulties likely push the estimated cost of the wall far beyond the amount the president requested.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is facing real problems regarding immigration, especially in the courts. There are currently over one million immigration cases backlogged nationwide, even after 100 judges were hired last year, and the ongoing government shutdown has only exacerbated the problem. Around 400 judges have received furlough orders, forcing cases to be postponed for years.

These issues will not solve themselves, and the Trump administration’s attempts at immigration reform, in particular its decision to prosecute illegal entry cases at the border, have only added to the chaos in the court system. Democrats are right to refuse the president’s “compromise,” which attempts to solve a complex problem with a simplistic campaign promise. That $5.7 billion would be far better spent elsewhere.

Sarah Almstrom is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].