On June 16, 2015 Donald Trumpannounced his campaign for the presidency and firstmentions his idea to build a southern border wall stating, “I will build agreat wall ? and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me ?and I’ll buildthem very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southernborder, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall.
Mark my words.” For good measure, he boasted, “And Iwill have Mexico pay for that wall.” My question is, will the building of a southernborder wall protect the United States or is it a campaign promise that willwaste billions of dollars of resources. Historically, walls have a very mixed record in achieving their goals tokeep people out. Walls cannot stop modern military becauseplanes and missiles go over them, tanks can smash right through them and bombscan bring them down altogether. Additionally, walls are not necessary to markthe territorial extent of the country because they are expensive and maps,boundary stones, and GPS data can serve this purpose (Di Cintio,2013).
But whatabout their use as a way to keep out unauthorized immigrants? In recent yearsthis thought has advanced as a popular solution, although the evidence is mixedon whether walls are effective at preventing large movements of people acrossborders. Of course, walls short in length and heavily guardedwith troops or law enforcement officers are very effective at stoppingmovement. Take for example, in the 1990s on the United States/Mexicoborder when the first sections of fencing were built in El Paso and San Diego, mannedby large deployments of Border Patrol agents. In the weeks that followed,crossings in those areas dropped significantly. However, the walls did not completely preventcrossings into the United States entirely, but instead shifted flows to otherlocations that were more remote or less guarded.
This example showed us twothings, first, on longer borders, it is extremely difficult to fence the entirelength and adequately guard it. Building fencing or a wall also entailsacquiring the necessary land (much of the nearly 2,000 mile-border is ownedby private citizens and businesses), building and maintaining roads,and supplying the necessary manpower to guard the barrier. A second reason that walls are not effective is thatmany unauthorized movements, particularly those of terrorists or smugglers, donot happen between crossing points. The bulk of unauthorized immigrants in theUnited States entered with a valid visa and simply overstayed the terms oftheir visa. Additionally, many smuggled goods (people included) come throughports of entry or through tunnels built under the walls (Dear, 2013) What will thiswall cost? Well that depends on who you believe.
The Departmentof Homeland Security reportedly estimated a wall would cost about $21.6 billion,not including maintenance, while Senate Democrats released a report estimatingthat it would cost about $70 billion to build, and $150 million a year tomaintain. These amounts do notinclude the cost to acquire the land and the legal battles that will ensue. The Department of Justice reportedly requested $1.8 millionfor 2018 (one year),enough to staff 20 positions, to meet demands during the construction along theborder. So the citizens of the United States (Mexico is not payingfor this wall) will have to shell out billions of dollars for a border wall.
Conclusion If walls only work todivert, not prevent, illegal immigrant flow, why spend billions to erectone? The truth is that walls are onlyeffective as symbols that demonstrate that politicians are doing something toaddress the perceived threats of illegal immigration. While theunderlying issues are very rarely solved by border security, “build a wall” hasbecome a catchphrase and the barrier itself is only a visual symbol of action.Consequently, despite the expense and questionable effectiveness, we will bewasting billions in resources could be use for something like criminal justicereform or infrastructure repair.