Is The Wall Worth It?
Mitchell Stern, Fiscal Policy Contributor
Donald Trump was elected to the presidency amidst promises to “Make America Great Again” and “Drain the Swamp”. The most policy-oriented Trump slogan was “Build a Wall.” From day one of his campaign, the president promised voters he would build a wall along the southern border of the United States. It is indisputable that the wall was a key reason he attracted such a strong base. Some supporters took this promise only as a metaphor for tighter border security. However, his recent executive order indicates Trump intends to at least attempt to build the wall. However, is building a wall really worth the cost?
To answer this question, we first need to consider the costs of illegal immigration. This can be difficult to measure, as at least some of the costs are not strictly monetary. For example, the cultural costs of having a large minority in the country that are living in the shadows and not being assimilated is hard to quantify. However, for the sake of simplicity, we will focus solely on direct fiscal costs of illegal immigration in this article.
Estimates regarding net national costs vary widely, ranging from as low as $2 billion to as high as $54 billion per year. Contrary to arguments that illegal immigration pay more in taxes than they consume in public services, a 2007 CBO study shows that, across all states, taxpayer-funded services provided to illegal immigrants are not covered by the taxes they pay. This indicates that overall illegal immigration does incur a net fiscal cost to taxpayers. It is, however, difficult to determine the overall net cost. However, illegal immigration clearly does pose a net cost on taxpayers, with the only question is exactly how much.
Next we need to examine the question of what a wall would actually cost. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell believes it could be built for $12 billion to $15 billion. Other estimates predict the cost as high as $25 billion. Much like the cost of illegal immigration, different examiners of the wall’s costs have reached different conclusions regarding the cost of a border wall. Like illegal immigration, estimates do not take into account potential negative cultural or social impacts from building a wall. Additionally,the annual cost would depend on how long it takes to build. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has said he hopes to finish construction within two years. Other less charitable analysts predict construction would take much longer, possibly past the end of Trump’s first term in office.
Ultimately, it is the annual cost of upkeep that will most heavily factor in regarding the wall’s costs. Construction would be a one-time expense and it probably would reduce illegal immigration, thereby lowering or eliminating the costs of illegal immigration, depending on the success of the rest of Trump’s immigration policy. However, ultimately, annual maintenance will be the biggest expense over time. The annual cost of the wall is estimated to be $750 million. While still a significant price tag, the wall would likely be cheaper than the continued costs of illegal immigration. Over the course of 10 years, building the wall and maintaining it would cost at most $33 billion (assuming one-time expenses of $25 billion and nearly $8 billion to maintain it). Assuming the true costs of illegal immigration exceed $3 billion per year (which is towards the low end of the cost estimates by the Government Accountability Office linked above), building and maintaining a border wall would cost less than the net cost of illegal immigration.
Of course, this doesn’t necessarily prove a wall to be worth it. There are legitimate questions about the effectiveness of a border wall. It is also difficult to determine how to reduce spending on services to illegal immigrants already in the country. Trump’s promise that Mexico would pay for the wall and his proposals to make it so are also dubious. However, at least in theory, a wall might be worth the costs. There are other options worth considering to secure the border. I personally like the idea of withdrawing troops from wealthy Western European countries and setting up bases near the border for them to do training exercises as well as apprehend illegal immigrants over building a wall. However, this article hopefully helped illustrate the wall is not as expensive as some have claimed and that there are definitely costs to illegal immigration. Securing the border is certainly a necessity given these costs, regardless of whether an actual border wall is the preferred method. Building a wall may not be the best option, but it is a potential solution to a clear problem that deserves serious consideration..
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