WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
12 Mar 2018 | Press Release

Trump Visits Border Wall Prototypes in San Diego, a City that Reveals Why Walls Don’t Work When Tackling Migration, Drug Trafficking Challenges

WOLA Report Examines Impact of San Diego’s 46-Mile Border Fence

Washington, D.C. —  President Trump’s first visit to California since taking the oath of office will include a stopover in San Diego on Tuesday, March 12, during which he will review prototypes for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall. According to his administration’s latest funding proposal, a 722-mile wall would cost $18 billion over the next 10 years, or about $25 million per mile. The Department of Homeland Security has repeatedly argued (most recently in a video) that San Diego is an example of why “walls work.”

A recent report by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) makes clear why building a wall would be a wasteful and ineffective approach to challenges like migration and drug trafficking. The report is based on field research conducted last year into San Diego’s experience with its 46 miles of border fencing.

“San Diego’s fence discouraged people from trying to cross over into the United States only because it’s located in a highly urban area, between two cities of over 1 million people,” said WOLA Director for Defense Oversight Adam Isacson. “Nearly all such areas along the U.S.-Mexico border already have fencing. A wall only slows down a would-be border crosser for several minutes, which makes zero difference in the rural, isolated areas where Trump wants to build his wall—or even in the 14 sparsely populated miles of the San Diego sector that don’t have a wall today. Moreover, a wall does nothing to deter the families and children from Central America who come to the U.S.-Mexico border purposefully looking to turn themselves in to authorities, because they’ve fled violence in their home countries and are seeking protection in the United States.”

The WOLA report, authored by Isacson and WOLA Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights Maureen Meyer, describes other lessons that the rest of the country can draw from San Diego’s experience with border fencing. Even as migration overall continues to decline, greater numbers of children and families are coming to the U.S.-Mexico border, including San Diego, seeking asylum. A wall or fence may inconvenience such migrants, but it does not deter them.

San Diego’s experience also suggests that drug trafficking organizations will merely re-adapt their strategies should the United States build a wall. Along the U.S.-Mexico border, San Diego remains the number one destination for heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and possibly fentanyl being transshipped from Mexico to the United States, according to 2016 seizure data. As the DEA and other U.S. agencies attest, most of these drug shipments are smuggled in small amounts through official border crossing points, known as ports of entry—not in the areas where fences exist or would be built.

“Trump wants to waste $25 million per mile on a construction project which won’t even address current challenges at the U.S.-Mexico border,” said Isacson. “The United States doesn’t need to spend billions on a wall when migration has been declining for the past two decades, and when drug traffickers are mostly smuggling their wares through official ports of entry. If there’s anything we can learn from San Diego’s experience, it’s that a 722-mile border wall would be astoundingly ineffective.”