We Need to Build a Wall
Kimo Gandall, Fiscal Policy Contributor
The Trump campaign has, for the majority of its existence, vowed to build a wall along the Mexican border. Trump additionally called on Mexico to pay for the wall, and since his Iowa victory speech, has only cemented his promise. In response, the media has called the wall, “impractical, impolitic, impossible,” and has accused the advocacy of costing over $24 billion dollars. But despite the pundits frantic pleas for Trump to abandon the wall, the idea has stuck. So now that Trump is getting ready to take office, what will the implementation of this wall look like, and most importantly, what is it going to cost the taxpayer?
The first question is tricky. There is already a border fence, and parts of a border wall, along the US-Mexican border. This ‘fence’, however, is likely much smaller than the wall President-Elect Trump is advocating for.
Above: The divide between the end of the fence, and the start of the ‘barrier’.
In fact, the Trump campaign has quite explicitly described the structure as, “...an impenetrable physical wall along the southern border…” The jist of this is that this wall will likely cost money, and that money could potentially be in the billions. The question then looms: can Trump, as he promised, get Mexico to pay for the wall?
The answer is a most likely ‘yes’, although not directly.
Trump’s first plan get Mexico to pay for the wall is complicated. His first goal would be to redefine the definition of the word ‘account’ as used by financial institutions so the Federal Government could regulate international transactions, making it nearly impossible for illegal immigrants to wire money outside of the US. The Trump administration argues that this would put Mexico in a difficult situation, as they would be required to make up for the $24 billion, which would cripple the Mexican social safety net. In the case this plan fails to convince the Mexican government to pay for the wall, the Trump team has argued that they will institute tariffs on Mexican profits, and increase the price of VISAs, both of which will cover the expenses of the wall.
The next pressing question is the solvency of the wall, and its total economic impact. The wall, within itself, is unlikely to seriously contribute to reducing the total $113 per year net expense of illegal immigrants in America. However, similar systems have seen limited success; in 2016 the Hungarian Police built a border barrier, and reported that illegal immigration was reduced by up to 86%. Of course, the immigration occurring in Europe is vastly different from that faced in the US, with Syrian refugees facing different social conditions than that of the American midwest. Furthermore, as previously indicated, the United States already has a partial fence. So it looks, at least in history, that this wall would be insolvent.
This, at least, is the usual claim. But Trump’s wall is different; in contrast to the small, 10 foot high border fences currently along the border, Trump has reported that his wall will be between 35 - 45 feet tall, and made out of concrete, preventing immigrants from passing on foot or car. Furthermore, with the wall partially underground, it is possible that it would deter tunnels, although there’s little evidence to show it would be 100% effective.
Of course, there is always the possibility of migrants finding different routes, and some evidence suggests this already occurring. According to politifact, there are around 40% of migrants entering the US illegally through air travel (although this statistic is rather shaky, as to methodological problems). However, to defend the wall, this still means the wall has the possibility of intercepting around 60% of those entering by foot or car, and even if it fails in this, the majority of illegal immigrants entering the US illegally by air travel are really just overstaying a VISA.
For any of you who have read my previous articles, one fact is certain: I love my empirical evidence. However, for this particular topic, most of the evidence is either nonexistent or tainted with political bias on both sides of the aisle. As a staunch empiricist, I must then conclude there is little definite evidence of solvency. With that being said, what Trump is attempting to accomplish has never truly been done before. The Soviets built a wall to keep citizens in, and Rome and China built walls to keep out invading armies. But Trump is building a wall to keep illegal immigrants out, and intends to do so in combination with extensive immigration reform; so unless you believe illegal immigrants are going to charge the border like Mongolian cavalry, or are secretly US citizens attempting to cross into Mexico, we’ll just have to wait and see.
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