WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd

24 Jul 2017 | Commentary

A Costly, Ineffective, and Divisive Border Wall Doesn’t Belong in a “National Security” Appropriation

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The House of Representatives is rushing to the floor four Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 appropriations bills related to national security, which will be combined into a so-called “minibus.” In addition, the House Republican leadership is expected to carve out the most controversial part of the Homeland Security appropriations bill—President Trump’s full request to fund the border wall—and use a procedural maneuver in the Rules Committee to attach it to this week’s funding bill. Along with money for our military, veterans, and other defense-related items, the House is expected to consider $1.6 billion to start building President Trump’s proposed border wall.

The border wall would be costly.

The bill would fund the Trump administration’s full request for $1.6 billion to build 60 miles of new border wall and fortify 14 miles of existing wall. That comes out to $21.2 million per mile. This is more than four times the $4.84 million per mile cost of fencing built since 2011.

At the rate proposed by President Trump, building additional fencing along the 1,317 border miles that lack it would cost $28 billion. And that figure doesn’t count the cost of building in more difficult terrain, access roads, maintenance, or acquiring land in Texas, where almost all border landholdings are privately held.

Building the wall carries a huge opportunity cost. $1.6 billion could support many more important border security priorities. These include upgrading and hiring more personnel for ports of entry, the main vector for illegal drugs. The ports have $5 billion in unmet infrastructure needs. They could include more technology so that border-security agencies have a better idea of what is happening along the border. This would make continued National Guard deployments unnecessary. They could include greatly increased investment in moving costs and bonuses for Border Patrol agents who agree to relocate from quieter border sectors to busier ones in need of manpower.

The border wall would be ineffective.

The proposed border wall will not stop drug trafficking. To understand drug trafficking across the U.S.-Mexico border, it’s first necessary to understand the difference between “ports of entry”—the 44 official land border crossings—and the vast spaces between them, where fencing exists or where Trump’s wall would be built. The ports of entry are where U.S. border authorities seize the majority of heroin and opioids, methamphetamine, and cocaine. “The big issue, really, right now on drugs coming into the United States is the ports of entry,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told a Senate committee in April. Building a wall would have no effect on smuggling at ports of entry.

Meanwhile, in the rural border areas where the White House proposes to build, a wall really isn’t much of a barrier. It slows individuals down for the 10 or 15 minutes it takes to climb over. In a populated area, where authorities can respond quickly, that 10 or 15 minutes makes a big difference. But almost all of these areas already have high fences, because of the hundreds of miles of building that followed the Secure Fence Act of 2006. In emptier areas, reducing a border crosser’s head start by 10 to 15 minutes is hardly a deterrent—and in Texas, the Rio Grande already serves that purpose.

The border wall would be dangerous.

More wall-building could have tragic consequences. Violence, poverty, and family ties ensure that migrants will continue attempting the risky journey through the border region’s inhospitable wilderness zones. Every year, U.S. authorities find the remains of hundreds of migrants, dead of dehydration and exposure in deserts and scrublands. With more fencing, migrants may attempt the crossing in even more remote areas, where the probability of death will be even higher.

The border wall would be divisive.

Building a wall sends a toxic message to one of our two closest neighbors, a country on whose cooperation the United States’ national security and economic prosperity depends. Mexico is the United States’ third-largest trading partner. Our common border is 1,970 miles long. Mexico collaborates on efforts to guard against extra-regional terrorists hypothetically using its territory to enter the United States. After 12 years of steadily declining migration, more Mexican citizens leave the United States than enter it each year. In January, it extradited its most notorious drug lord to the United States.

It makes no sense to undermine this relationship by building a permanent barrier along our border with Mexico. It makes no sense to jeopardize badly needed cooperation by portraying Mexico as a sinister source of threats that should foot the bill for the wall (which, the 2018 appropriation makes clear, it will not have to do). Mexico certainly has problems, particularly corruption and human rights abuse. But these are aspects of the relationship the United States must work on, rather than push Mexico away with an aggressive construction project.

The border wall should be rejected.

WOLA believes that these are overwhelming reasons to oppose President Trump’s request for a border wall and to vote against its inclusion in a bill claiming to fund national security. Regardless of party, it is clear that $1.6 billion spent to start building the wall is money wasted. Let’s stop this now before it becomes even larger, more costly, more counterproductive, and more divisive.