WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

(AP Photo/Elliott Spagat, File)

9 Jan 2018 | Commentary

22 Amazing Things You Can Do for the Cost of a Few Miles of Border Wall

Nearly a year into the Trump presidency, the White House has finally added some hard numbers to its border wall proposal. A document titled “Critical CBP Requirements to Improve Border Security,” distributed last week to Senate offices negotiating the 2018 federal budget, calls for building new or replacement wall over 722 miles of the 1,970-mile U.S.-Mexico border. About 316 miles of that would cover currently unfenced areas.

The price tag for these 722 miles is jaw-dropping: $18 billion over 10 years. That divides out to $25 million for every mile of wall. This is four times what fencing cost ten years ago. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the more than 270 miles of sturdy pedestrian border fencing built after passage of the 2006 Secure Fence Act cost $6.5 million per mile.*

WOLA proposes adopting the “Border-Wall Mile” as a new unit of financial measure. At the proposed exchange rate of $25 million per Border-Wall Mile, here is what other items would cost:

  1. The entire 2017 budget of Cincinnati’s police force equals 5.8 Border-Wall Miles. The budget of St. Louis’s police force equals 6.5 Border-Wall Miles. That of Washington DC’s Metro Police is about 25 Border-Wall Miles.
  2. For every Border-Wall Mile, 16,361 kids can be covered by the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). 10 Border-Wall Miles are enough to fund CHIP for a year in Colorado, Oklahoma, Michigan, or Kentucky.
  3. 18 Democratic Senators introduced legislation last year to “effectively address” America’s opioid-abuse emergency at a cost of 179 Border-Wall Miles per year.
  4. Assuming $20,000 each, it would cost about 32 Border-Wall Miles to house every one of the United States’ 40,000 homeless veterans for a year.
  5. The vast majority of heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine enters the United States through official ports of entry, many of which are dilapidated. Fully modernizing all of the ports of entry would cost about 200 Border-Wall Miles.
  6. The Nationals Park baseball stadium was built for a cost of 28 Border-Wall Miles.
  7. The Washington D.C. Metro subway’s emergency safety renovation program, known as SafeTrack, has disrupted countless commutes at a cost of about 4.7 Border-Wall Miles.
  8. Assuming $15 per unit, the best-selling album in history, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, grossed a total of about 30 Border-Wall Miles.
  9. In 2014-15, Georgia enrolled 80,430 students in pre-K education at a total cost of 12.5 Border-Wall Miles.
  10. New York City spends between 10 and 11 Border-Wall Miles each year to carry out repairs and fill potholes on all of its 6,074 miles of streets.
  11. Jordan Peele made the 2017 smash-hit movie Get Out for a total budget of 0.18 Border-Wall Miles. It grossed over 10 Border-Wall Miles at the box office.
  12. Adjusted for inflation, the 1977 classic Star Wars: A New Hope has grossed about 59.4 Border-Wall Miles. Last month, Star Wars: The Last Jedi had the second-largest-grossing opening weekend ever, taking in 8.8 Border-Wall Miles.
  13. For budget reasons, the U.S. Navy hasn’t patrolled the Caribbean, or Central America’s Pacific coast, for suspect cocaine shipments since 2015. The Coast Guard has been doing this on its own, with six to ten cutters, that are only able to interdict about thirty percent of known suspected smugglers. It would cost the Navy 17 Border-Wall Miles to deploy a refitted Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate for ten years, as the Navy Secretary has recommended.
  14. Fully implementing the entire “Illicit Cultivation” chapter of Colombia’s 2016 peace accord—which would do away with most of the country’s coca crop—would cost about 52 Border-Wall Miles.
  15. 18.8 Border-Wall Miles could pay for one year of tuition and fees ($70,000) for the entire undergraduate student body (6,700) at Harvard. A single Border-Wall Mile could pay the entire four-year tuition of 665 in-state public university students.
  16. The Inter-American Foundation, a U.S. government agency, has helped tens of thousands of Latin American citizens escape poverty through an innovative grassroots development model. Its entire annual budget equals 0.9 Border-Wall Miles.
  17. The 2017 world-champion Houston Astros began the season with a total payroll of 5 Border-Wall Miles.
  18. All U.S. aid to Mexico in 2017, whether for justice, the military, anti-drug efforts, or violence prevention, totals about 5.5 Border-Wall Miles.
  19. Assuming $100,000 in salary and benefits, the jobs of 630 workers laid off from an Indiana factory of Carrier Corp.—where President Trump last year hailed an agreement to keep jobs from moving to Mexico—are equivalent to 2.5 Border-Wall Miles per year.
  20. It could cost up to 200 Border-Wall Miles to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid. FEMA assistance to Puerto Rico has totaled 54 Border Wall Miles.
  21. You could buy everyone in Boston an iPhone X for about 27 Border-Wall Miles. At $50 per month, the data plan would be another 18 BWMs per year.
  22. If you’ve been diligent with your money and have achieved a net worth of $1 million—something that less than 10 percent of Americans have managed—congratulations. You can now afford 70 yards of border wall—30 yards short of what you’d need to stretch between a football field’s end zones.


The bloated cost is just one of several reasons why the Trump White House’s proposed border wall is a bad idea. See these other WOLA resources below.


*Why is Trump’s wall so much more expensive? First, the prototypes built last October near San Diego indicate a barrier that would be larger, thicker, often more opaque—and more expensive. Second, much new construction would take place in border zones where difficult terrain raises the price tag dramatically. Third, much borderland that remains unfenced—especially in Texas—sits on private property, which means hundreds or thousands of costly eminent domain processes, including years-long legal battles.