The U.S. – Mexico Border Wall:
Another Flawed Focal Point of President Trump’s Immigration Control Strategy
Human rights groups and migration experts have long argued that border walls have little to no effect on human migration that is forcibly driven by economic survival, violence and wars, persecution, and more.
Yet, the construction of a huge wall between the United States and Mexico was a centerpiece of Donald Trump’s election bid, and has become a key symbol of the President’s immigration strategy. While Trump declared that Mexico would fund the wall, Mexico has adamantly declared it would not.
Republican leaders have delayed Trump’s request for wall construction in the “supplemental” to the Fiscal Year 2017 budget; Democrats have vowed not to engage on any budget proposal that included funding for the wall.
Some Republican Party lawmakers also now claim the border wall is not a priority and is far too costly, even though the stated purpose of the wall–to “deter and prevent illegal entry of aliens” and to help achieve “operational control of the border”–are aims of Republican Party policies.
In the meantime, immigrant and human rights advocates, border community groups, local border area governments, the faith community, environmentalists and many other members of Congress have loudly criticized Trump’s proposal. They see the wall as inhumane, divisive, and a distraction from addressing real issues like positive immigration reform, the socio-economic development of the border region, and attention to the “root causes” of migration.
About the U.S.-Mexico Border Wall
The southern border between Mexico and the U.S. is a highly militarized and surveilled region. There are over 650 miles of fencing and other barriers along the 1,954 mile-long border, as well as aerial surveillance, motion detectors, camera towers, drones and blimps. More than 21,000 Border Patrol agents, thousands of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents and numerous other federal law enforcement operatives are in place.
The current barrier includes about 350 miles in primary pedestrian fencing, 300 miles in vehicle fencing, 36 miles of secondary fencing behind the primary fencing, and 14 miles of tertiary pedestrian fencing behind the secondary fence. The fencing includes metal or concrete posts, corrugated steel walls, metal fences, or some combination of these materials.
Trump’s Wall Proposal
Bids solicited for wall construction described “concrete wall structures, nominally 30 feet tall, that will meet requirements for aesthetics, anti-climbing, and resistance to tampering or damage.” A more recent solicitation asks for both concrete-based designs and for “other” designs. Over 600 companies expressed interest, from big defense contractors like Raytheon to small companies with no prior government contracts. (The Atlantic Citylab) Selected companies are being asked to build wall prototypes in the San Diego area.
Trump’s request for the 2017 supplemental budget sought $1 billion to build 48 miles of new wall and 14 miles of replacement wall–about $16 million per mile of wall. Trump is also asking for $2.6 billion for the wall and related border technology in his proposed FY2018 budget. In the meantime, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it intends to construct smaller barriers, like fences and walls, at strategic locations along the border. (New York Times)
The Oakland, California City Council has passed a resolution saying it would not do business with companies bidding to build the border wall, and other cities, including New York, are considering similar action. The Catholic Archdiocese in Mexico has called Mexican companies bidding on the wall construction “traitors”, while more than 80 faith-based organizations sent a letter to Congress saying that “a border wall and other senseless border militarization are inconsistent” with their values.
Border walls increase migrant deaths and disappearances
Whether in the U.S., Europe or elsewhere, border walls, enforcement personnel and practices, and related technology have not stopped border crossers. In the case of the U.S.-Mexico border, the undocumented immigration “deterrence” strategy, with physical barriers and increased enforcement, actually “funnels” border crossers to more dangerous locations–increasing the risk of migrant disappearances, deaths and violence in the border areas. (Congressional Research Service, 2016 and Coalición de Derechos Humanos).
In more recent years, even as border crossings have decreased, the rate of deaths has gone up. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) data, the remains of 240 migrants (a number generally acknowledged to be much lower than the actual number of migrants who died and whose remains are yet unfound) were discovered in the border regions in FY2015. The Coalición de Derechos Humanos in Tucson has documented many cases in which border crossers were seriously injured or died because of the rough and impassable terrain they were attempting to cross. There are hundreds of cases of migrants getting lost or injured in the wilderness, some due to Border Patrol chases.
Many advocacy and humanitarian groups in the border region are working to help locate “missing migrants”, operating hotlines and even working with governmental agencies in the U.S. and other countries to match DNA profiles of remains with missing loved ones.
The border wall will trample on land rights of indigenous and other border populations
A continuous border wall would cross both public and private lands, including land belonging to a number of Indian tribal groups that live on both sides of the border. The government has already attempted to seize private property to build the wall, producing costly and lengthy, legal battles with landowners––a mere taste of the complications that would result from Trump’s proposal to build a complete wall. There are reportedly some 400 lawsuits pending against the US government by disgruntled border area landowners.
A border wall would also violate Native land rights; for example, the Tohono O’odham Nation straddles the Southwest border, and a wall would cut through their land, separating people and restricting freedom of movement. (American Immigration Council) Amy Juan, a member of the O’odham Nation, condemned the militarization of her people’s lands: “As a people, as a community, it would be a literal separation from our home.” (Washington Post, Nov. 15, 2016)
The border wall undermines the environment
Environmental organizations argue that the border wall would have a lasting and devastating impact, affecting more than a hundred endangered species, damaging the flow of floodwaters and more. Proposals to suspend environmental protections have been included in a number of border wall-building legislative bill, raising concerns not only for the U.S.-Mexico region, but all other land and sea borders–and keeping in mind that the border is not simply a narrow line, but includes areas 100 miles inland from the border. Almost a third of the land along the border is public land and includes parks, wildlife refuges and national forests.
The border wall is overly expensive and a waste of our tax dollars
Although Trump has claimed that the border wall would cost between $8 and $12 billion, numerous experts suggest variously that it would cost up to $38 billion, with most citing about $21.6 billion. (MIT Technology Review) Additionally, maintenance of the border wall could cost up to $750 million a year. (Politico) DHS has identified just $20 million in its budget that could be re-directed to the wall, and which could possibly be used to build the wall prototypes. (Reuters, Mar. 2, 2017) A recent report by Senate Democrats asserted that the wall could cost nearly $70 billion to build and $150 million a year to maintain. (New York Times, Apr. 18, 2017)
In the President’s FY 2018 budget request sent to Congress, some $2.6 billion was earmarked as a “down payment” on the wall.
The border wall will produce dire economic consequences
In many border communities, both businesses and individuals depend on both labor and consumers crossing the border every day to engage in commerce, including the phenomena of “twin cities” on either side of the border. The purchasing power of Mexican people in Texas border towns is an important source of revenue. (Business Insider) Laredo, Texas mayor Pete Saenz (who himself voted for Trump) has said the economic effects of a border wall would be “a disaster.” Laredo is a major land port and does some $200 billion in trade with Mexico; cross-border trade is considered the “backbone” of the town. (NPR, Jan. 22, 2017)
Pictorial Websites and Resources:
Best of Luck with the Wall – a geographic-based visual of the entire U.S.-Mexico border. https://theintercept.com/2016/10/26/best-of-luck-with-the-wall/
Before the Wall: Life Along the U.S.-Mexico Border – a report with pictures from border towns, documenting the historic economic interconnectedness of twin cities. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/02/08/world/americas/before-the-wall-life-along-the-us-mexico-border.html?emc=edit_ta_20170208&nl=top-stories&nlid=26527017&ref=cta
This is What the U.S.-Mexico Border Wall Actually Looks Like – a pictorial story of existing walls along the border. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160304-us-mexico-border-fence-wall-photos-immigration/
Disappeared: How the US Border Enforcement Agencies are Fueling a Missing Persons Crisis. La Coalición de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths, December 2016. www.thedisappearedreport.org