Throughout his campaign, President Trump promised to build a “big, beautiful wall” at the southwest border to “prevent illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking, and acts of terrorism”. Initially, Trump said that Mexico would pay for the costs of constructing the border wall. The President of Mexico has insisted that Mexico will not pay for the wall. Despite Mexico’s refusal, Trump maintains that they will pay one way or another. Trump explained that while the U.S. may need to pay for the wall initially, funds could be recouped by raising tariffs on imports from Mexico. In January, after being sworn in, Trump issued an executive order directing federal funding to construction of the border wall. On July 27th, the House of Representatives approved a spending package with a $1.57 billion down payment for the wall. Estimates on the overall cost of construction for the border wall vary from $21-70 billion.
Fencing currently exists on close to 700 miles of the 1,933 mile border between the U.S. and Mexico. Much of the current fencing was constructed during the Obama administration under the Secure Fence Act of 2006, signed by George W. Bush. The areas without a fence are kept secure with the use of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles, cameras, guards, scanners, and boats. The types of fencing used along the border varies and includes wire mesh, chain link, post and rail, sheet piling, concrete barriers for vehicles and X-shaped steel beams for livestock.
Construction of the border wall faces many legal obstacles. One of those is the Boundary Treaty established in 1970 between the U.S. and Mexico dictating where and how structures can be built along the border. Officials from both the U.S. and Mexico have to agree on any structure that could impact the flow of the Rio Grande River. Other legal issues impacting where the border wall can be built include areas in tribal territory and privately owned land. Two-thirds of the land along the border is private or state-owned with the majority in Texas, where much of the border does not have fencing.
Those in favor of the border wall argue that it is essential for national security and its existence would send a strong message that people need to enter the U.S. through proper channels. As it is, the border is very porous. Evidence for this is seen in the thousands of people convicted of re-entering the U.S. after they have already been deported. About a quarter of the people crossing the U.S. and Mexico border have done it at least once before. People trying to cross into the U.S. illegally can do so undetected in many places along the border. For example, there is a 60 mile stretch of the existing fence in Texas with many spots where people can walk or drive across the border with no one to stop them. In addition, there is a footbridge across the Rio Grande that is completely unguarded. Because of the porous nature of the border, supporters claim that terrorists could easily get into the country with biological or chemical weapons. Supporters of the border wall also argue that it is essential for reducing crime. Former border patrol employees have testified to the Senate that the border wall is “absolutely critical” in reducing violence. These border patrol veterans detailed how violent attacks by border bandits reduced drastically after the existing fence was built in parts of Arizona and California. Supporters also point out that building the wall is an important jobs and infrastructure project. Some estimates have said that the project could generate between 21,000 to 25,000 jobs for Americans.
Those opposed to the border wall argue that it is unnecessary because there are fewer people trying to cross the border illegally. The number of Mexican unauthorized immigrants is at a 17-year low. In 2016, Mexicans made up half of all illegal immigrants, which was the first time in a decade that they were not the majority. In addition, opponents point out that in 2016 there were 5.6 million Mexican unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S., down from 6.4 million in 2009. Opponents also feel that the border wall is unnecessary because Trump’s promises to crack down on illegal immigration have already caused a reduction in unauthorized immigration. After Trump’s first month in office, unauthorized crossing into the U.S. went down 40%. They argue that because of Trump’s hard stance on illegal immigration, the chances of getting deported are greater if you do make it across, which makes it less attractive to try. Opponents also shoot down claims that the border wall is necessary to reduce crime. They counter that unauthorized immigrants are less likely than citizens to commit crimes. In addition, opponents argue that building up the wall will not stop drug trafficking. Despite the existing fencing, drug cartels have continued to get drugs into the U.S. and they will continue to find ways to do so as long as the demand is there.
Is Trump’s border wall necessary for national security? Has the recent reduction of unauthorized immigration made the case for the border wall obsolete? What do you think?