For years, enforcement advocates have urged Congress to complete a wall along the shared U.S.-Mexico border. And for an equal number of years, the immigration lobby has asserted that it can’t be done, and insisted that no wall would stop illegal immigration. The popular argument is that a 20-foot high wall would only increase the sales of 21-foot ladders.
But since President-elect Donald Trump promised to build “a big, beautiful powerful wall,” and made that pledge the cornerstone of his immigration enforcement platform, getting the facts straight about what can and cannot be done is important.
First, Trump’s reference to a brick-and-mortar wall is metaphorical. Talk about building a wall intends to convey Trump’s commitment to aggressively deter illegal immigration, MS-13 gang members, drug and human trafficking, and terrorists.
Second, realistically, Trump would settle for what the House of Representatives is rumored to be proposing, a double-layered fence along 1,000 miles of the Southwest border. As Trump explained to Fox Business News host Maria Bartiromo, the southern border has large swaths of impenetrable natural terrain, so the total fencing required would only be “a little more than 1,000 miles.”
Additionally, thousands of new border agents would be hired. Trump’s supporters would no doubt applaud double-layered fencing, since it’s quantum leaps better than the current flimsy barbed wire and virtual fence that don’t present an effective deterrent to determined migrants.
Third, the question about who will pay for the labor and materials that go into constructing the fence is another variable in the argument against building it. Mexico insists it won’t pay, but may have little choice if Trump carries out his plan to change a rule under the USA PATRIOT Act, and cut off at least some of the $25 billion that flows from the U.S. to Mexico in the form of remittances. Illegal immigrants, working unlawfully in the U.S., represent the largest percentage of senders.
Upon hearing of Trump’s plan, former Mexican president Vicente Fox dropped an “F-bomb,” and current president Enrique Pena Nieto more tactfully declared the idea outrageous and impossible.
Fourth, although much attention has been paid to the fence and border security in general, the bigger picture is the important one. Not only has Trump repeatedly promised a fence – music to some Americans’ ears a decade after President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act which came to naught – but he’s aware of the Mexican government’s complicity in the U.S. immigration crisis.
In his June 2015 announcement for the presidency, Trump charged that Mexico “is not our friend” and “sends” troubled people to the U.S. that collect social services and other affirmative benefits, an opinion that the ongoing Central America border surge via Mexico confirms.
The takeaway is that after a 30-year winning streak since the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act which granted amnesty but never fulfilled the legislation’s enforcement provisions, pro-immigration activists are in for tough times. The fence naysayers may claim there’s no way, but “no” is a word that seems to energize Trump. And if the federal government can build more than 50,000 miles of interstate highway, it can certainly construct 1,000 miles of border fence.
A Californians for Population Stabilization Senior Writing Fellow, Joe Guzzardi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @joeguzzardi19.