Is Trump’s Border Wall Even Necessary?


At a rally in Iowa this week, President Donald Trump floated the idea of adding solar panels to his Mexican border wall. However, with or without solar panels, Trump’s wall is becoming more and more question begging upon voters and researchers as to how necessary it really is.

The Pew Research Centre reports that approximately 45% of the illegal immigrant population first came to the USA legally through a border crossing point or an airport on visas. American visas allow immigrants to reside in the USA for a given time. One becomes an “overstayer” if they overstay that given time. A border wall will not prevent immigrants from overstaying their visas.

If a border wall were to be constructed, it’s likely that most immigrants crossing the border illegally will simply resort to using the “overstay” method. Meanwhile, immigrants who can’t get a visa could still find illegal ways of getting into the USA. Over the last two decades, the Department of Homeland Security has discovered over 140 tunnels under the Mexico-US border. Ladders and ropes can also be used to climb over the wall. Furthering, drugs could still be transported over the wall by using a drone.

The wall would likely prevent some illegal border crossings, but certainly not as many as Trump expects. Furthermore, if there were ever a time when building a wall was unnecessary, the time is now. According to Pew, border apprehensions are at “historic” lows. In 2014, Mexicans made up only half of total apprehensions at the border, having decreased rapidly from 809,000 in 2007 to 229,000 in 2014. Immigration expert Douglas Massey attributes the drop to the declining Mexican fertility rate. According to Massey, the Mexican fertility rate has dropped from 7.2 children per woman in 1965 to 2.4 in 2016. Unless the Mexican fertility picks up again, the number of illegal border crossings by Mexicans will remain lower than what it has been historically.

Another explanation for the un-necessity of Trump’s wall is the decline of the US economy since the Global Financial Crisis. The majority of illegal immigrants in the USA are men who leave their families in order to work in America for a short period of time. After the GFC in 2008, the US economy has looked less attractive as a destination for economic migrants. Increased job creation in Mexico as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement(NAFTA) has also reduced the necessity of traveling to the USA for work.

Advocates of Trump’s wall might argue that if the disparity between the American and Mexican economy grows, illegal immigration from Mexico to the USA might grow; which would be correct, but building a wall along the Mexican border would actually increase the number of illegal immigrants living in the USA.

After Ronald Reagan increased border security in 1986, the illegal immigrant population grew. “Although the intent of border enforcement was to discourage migrants from coming to the United States, in practice it backfired, instead discouraging them from returning home to Mexico,” Massey argues. “Having experienced the risks and having paid the costs of gaining entry, undocumented men increasingly hunkered down and stayed in the United States, rather than circulating back to face the gantlet once more.”

The data from Pew backs up Massey’s theory. Approximately 66% of illegal immigrants “have lived in the USA for at least a decade.” Building a wall would not decrease the incentive of traveling to the USA but would decrease the incentive of going back to Mexico.

The illegal immigrant population in the USA is currently at 11.3 million people and has declined steadily since 2007, according to Pew. This means that net immigration to the USA is less than zero. That is to say, there are more illegal immigrants leaving than there are arriving. Building a wall will give illegal immigrants an incentive to bring their families to the USA to “hunker down,” thereby increasing the illegal immigrant population actually living in the USA.

Regardless of the wall’s efficacy, the wall would be incredibly impractical to build. There are huge obstacles along the Mexican border that make wall construction difficult. Not only canyons, jungles and rivers, but American private property stands in Trump’s way. The seizure of private property that is necessary for constructing a concrete fence along the Mexican border, would be a legal and moral nightmare. Representative Henry Cueller from Texas told the Los Angeles Times, “In Texas, we have a long tradition of private property rights. Any time big government starts using eminent domain and taking land — especially the valuable part, access to water — then it becomes a battle cry. Lawsuits will definitely be coming in.”

Texas and other border states have already been through a similar legal battle. The 2007 Secure Fences Act led the Bush Administration to seize privately owned property. However, the eminent domain lawsuits slowed down construction of the fence significantly. According to border security expert Terence Garrett, there are still over 90 eminent domain cases still tied up in court.

Vox’s Dara Lind and Tara Golshan describe the situation of Mauricio Vidaurri, who owns a ranch close to the river where Trump’s wall would be built. “He has some practical concerns; he relies on the water from the river to grow hay on his ranch,” they explain. “Then there’s sentiment. The wall could cut off his family’s nearly 200-year-old cemetery, where his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father, a World War II veteran, are buried.”

There is also the issue of tribal lands. Federal law recognizes tribal lands held by Indian tribes as “distinct, independent, political entities,” according to the CATO Institute. The Tohono O’odham Nation, which spans territory on both sides of the border, have already expressed disapproval of Trump’s wall policy. Building a wall would mean cutting the historically significant land in half.

The ecological impacts of the wall are also concerning. The wall could restrict access to water resources, divide communities of animals and hinder breeding between those animals. “Border infrastructure not only blocks the movement of wildlife, but… destroys the habitats, fragments the habitats and the connectivity that these animals use to move from one place to another,” Arizona Sonora Desert Museum’s Sergio Avila-Villegas told the BBC.

Estimates for the cost of the wall range from $21 billion up to a whopping $70 billion. As the Hillary Clinton campaign rightly pointed out, “that is enough to build 16 Golden Gate Bridges or 1,500 new elementary schools. It is enough to send more than 300,000 veterans to college—or install enough renewable energy to power 5 million homes.”

A border wall isn’t just unnecessary, it’s ineffective and a practically impossible goal. The USA has a crisis in health care, a declining middle class, crumbling nationwide infrastructure, and is almost $20 trillion in debt. Surely $20 billion could be spent better elsewhere if spent at all.