One of Donald Trump’s messages that resonates with working Americans is building a wall along our border with Mexico and increasing the size and strength of our border control efforts along our southern border. The wall is a talking point that gets a lot of attention but could it actually be done?
The scale of illegal immigration into the U.S. is significant, with nearly three-point-five percent of the population here illegally. That’s roughly 11.3 million people, depending on how you count them, understanding that absolute accuracy is not possible. Only about half of those here illegally come from Mexico and a few of the states with the highest populations of illegal immigrants don’t share a border with Mexico. A fence across our southern border would do little to address the problem of illegal immigration in Florida or Nevada, two states with large populations of people in the country illegally.
All the same, this is America and if enough people want a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and are willing to pay for it, what’s wrong with building one? Trump claims he can get Mexico to pay for the wall but that seems unlikely. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t or shouldn’t do it anyway, if we were willing to come up with the money.
What Will It Really Cost?
Trump’s estimates have ranged from $5 billion to $12 billion for the wall but the costs vary widely depending on construction materials and height. Trump himself envisions a 35-40 high wall. Fact checkers have estimated the cost of a 25 foot wall to be roughly $25 to $42 billion for 1,000 miles of wall. The total amount of wall we’d need could end up being longer and a wall without additional border security is, essentially, worthless. While a huge cost, keep in mind we spend over $500 billion every year on defense and defense related expenses.
Paying For It
Suppose we could guesstimate the costs at an even $40 billion for the wall and an additional $10 billion for additional border patrol agents and security. For a large government project, that’s actually not all that expensive. For comparison, the U.S. has spent roughly $3.5 billion on the F-35, an airplane that costs $100 million each, or an even billion for every ten planes in our inventory. Various branches of the military envision having 2,500 of the planes. That’s $250 billion dollars for a plane that’s already eight years late and still doesn’t work right. Compared to the F-35, the wall is a bargain.
Trump envisions seizing foreign remittances, the money foreign workers send back home, to pay for the wall. That’s not going to raise even the low end of the figure for building the wall. More likely, once the seizures of remittances started, those here illegally would find another mechanism to get their money back home and that revenue would dry up quickly.
Will It Work?
Now there’s a good question. There are many significant obstacles to building any kind of structure along the border. One challenge is keeping the Rio Grande River flowing freely while keeping people out. Other technical problems include terrain issues and the fact that the fence would have to cross private property in spots. Even if we could solve the technical problems, are we willing to declare eminent domain on private landowners along the border and endure the inevitable lawsuits?
Getting Mexico to pay for the wall is certainly a fantasy. Even at that, the costs are manageable and the project is within the bounds of our engineering skill. If we’re willing to foot the bill for building the wall and exercise the government’s power to seize the privately owned land to get it done, then there’s no other reason we couldn’t do it.