You can’t escape it. Every time you turn on the television, the radio, or talk to one of your friends, the topic of a wall seems to pop up. So, just in case you aren’t sick of it, yet, here’s an article that seeks to simply draw a conclusion from facts, cost analysis, and inferences from past walls as to what exactly a wall would mean on America’s southern border. I looked at what the actual cost of the wall would be. I tried to interpret that sum into ways I could comprehend it. I then compared that sum to other government expenditures. Next, I tried to understand the popularity of walls and why that was so. Finally, I looked at the effectiveness of walls both nationally and internationally. I’ll follow up my findings with the conclusion I’ve drawn based on facts.
The Cost of the Wall
The border of U.S. and Mexico is 1,933 miles long. In 1993, President Bill Clinton mandated the construction of 14 miles of wall along the border of San Diego. In 2006, President. George W. Bush, under the Secure Fence Act, allocated for 654 miles of fence to be built along the Southwest border of California to Texas. Along with a few naturally occurring barriers along the way, Fox News reports that there are approximately 1,150 miles of the border without a barrier, fence, or wall.
Based on the cost of the 654 miles completed in 2006, and adjusted for inflation, the cost of materials for 1,150 miles of the wall would be $8.7 billion for concrete, $3.6 billion for steel, and $12.3 billion for labor. If the wall were to become a fence instead, as has been discussed by the President, the cost would lower, but only by about 10-15%, according to Bloomberg. An additional cost is the land acquisition involved along the border. Roughly 60% of the land is privately owned, but the government can enact eminent domain to seize the land as long as they provide “just compensation”. Based on previous purchases of land in 2006, and adjusted for inflation, the total for the remainder of the land required to complete the wall will come to approximately $200 million. Based on these numbers, the actual cost of the wall will be much closer to $24.8 billion.
Although, it is impossible to predict all of the costs associated with an endeavor such as this. Here are a few examples of the unknowns that could impact the total cost
- Will more or fewer border agents be required once the wall is built?
- Will there be a reduction in “virtual” walls?
- What will be the cost of on-going maintenance?
- What will be the economic impact on border towns?
- How will it affect import and exports?
- Will there be a reduction in illegal immigration, saving budget allocation?
How Much is $25 Billion
Here’s a list of things you could do with $25 billion:
- Fix the Flint, Michigan water crisis.
- End U.S. homelessness annually.
- Provide 50,000 small businesses with $500,000.
- Hire 50,000 teachers for 10 years.
- Purchase Twitter.
- Provide one-third more funding for veterans for a year.
- Eradicate polio.
- Insure 1.5 million Americans.
- Relieve one percent of all student debt.
- Place a taco truck on every third street corner in the United States.
While $25 billion seems like an insane amount of money, here some other things the government has spent exorbitant amounts of money on.
The National Science Foundation and UC San Diego spent $1.5 million to put a mudskipper on a treadmill to test its flopping skills and need for Oxygen.
The Department of Defense Office of Naval Research spent $460,000 so computers could binge watch 600 hours of television shows and 400 hours of online videos to determine if a computer algorithm could predict when characters would hug, kiss, shake hands, or high-five.
The FAA spent $200 million on the building and upgrading of the MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah, IL which has just one airline operating out of it.
The Pentagon in 2017 spent $28 million on licensing fees for the lush green uniforms of the Afghan National Army. Afghanistan is 98% desert. Additionally, simply swapping from zippers on military uniforms to buttons could save the U.S. taxpayers $68.6-$71.2 million over the course of a decade. And trust me, we’d much rather have the buttons.
Over twenty years, Northwestern University received $3 million from the National Institutes of Health to watch Hamsters fight, including $306,000 in 2015 alone.
The government owns old schools, firehouses, offices, and other buildings that aren’t being used, but are still being held onto. As of 2016, the number of buildings reached 770,000. These buildings still require maintenance such as basic power, lawn care, and making sure the pipes don’t freeze. This equates to $1.7 billion a year.
A report from 2011 from the Treasury Inspector General for the Tax Administration found that the IRS spent $862,000 annually on unused warehouse space.
Amongst five Federal agencies, they pay $3.1 billion annually for those placed on administrative leave while they are being cleared for duty. $775 million of that amount goes to those on leave for misconduct.
In 2017, Standard and Poor estimated that the cost of a full government shutdown would cost the U.S. economy approximately $6.5 billion a week. For the last 3 weeks, a quarter of the government has been shut down, costing about $1.6 billion a week. Multiple that by three and the debate over the wall has already cost $4.8 billion and counting.
As of just before the government shutdown, the annual budget for 2019 was slated to come in at $4.407 trillion. $24.8 billion dollars for a wall on America’s southern border is just a drop in the bucket at that point. Another drop, amongst all the others.
The Rise of the Wall
Over the years, walls have been growing in popularity. At the end of WWII, there were fewer than five border walls in existence, at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, there were fifteen. Today, there are nearly seventy. The U.S. is leading the charge, but, in 2015, Austria, Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia all announced or began building border walls. In 2016, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Austria expanded fences. Norway began building a fence on its Russian border. The UK began funding a wall in Calais, France, and Pakistan began building a wall on its border with Afghanistan.
Why This Is Happening
As societies advanced into the latter half of the 20th Century, the world population boomed from 3 billion to 7.7 billion today. This came with multiple side-effects. It caused economic disparity forcing populations to relocate to seek more opportunity. Wars became predominant during the globalization age as well, causing populations to flee for their safety. In a span of ten years, the number of people forcefully displaced grew by 71%, reaching 65 million by 2015. This number is up from 38 million in 2015.
This has led to the appeal of walls as boundaries to prevent migrants from entering foreign cities and countries. According to migrantpolicy.org, The fear is that overwhelming migrant and asylum-seekers will affect three key areas: 1. Economy 2. Employment 3. Social Cohesion.
PBS reports that walls used to be viewed with a certain stigma around them. After the Cold War, people wanted to connect, rather than isolate, but in the modern age, terrorism has gone a long way toward eliminating the stigmatism and placing instead a sense of security associated with building walls and keeping foreigners at bay. Post 9/11, certain security measures were accepted at face value because citizens were afraid of what was deemed inevitable terror attacks. The government created the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, creating TSA. The Patriot Act was passed, which allowed private and unwarranted surveillance. The Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act passed. All in, post 9/11, 130 pieces of security-centric legislation was put into place. All of it involved giving up some level of civil liberties enjoyed beforehand. Globalism, population growth, economic disparity, terrorism, and tribalism have all contributed to fear, which in turn, has led to the popularity of building walls around the world.
Do Walls Prove Effective Against These Circumstances
In 1993, President Clinton signed Operation Gatekeep into law. It mandated a stretch of fence along the Southern Border between San Diego. U.S Customs and Border Patrol cites it led to a 75% reduction in illegal immigrants over the next few years. Similarly, Hungary and Bulgaria reported the same type of numbers.
Those numbers are misleading, however. In the U.S. as the number of immigrants rapidly fell in California, it simultaneous drastically rose in Arizona. Arizona had the fifth highest population growth in the nation during that time period. It was found that most migrants were using the Tijuana River Estuary instead to gain access to the States. The Bulgarian fence has had a similarly limited effect. According to an article in the Guardian, today, if you head to the Balkans, you’ll meet plenty of mainly Afghan migrants walking north to the Scandinavia, having successfully crossed the Turkish-Bulgarian border. In Hungary, migrants are still entering the EU at will, by simply circumventing Hungary and landing in Italy or Libya. The correlation is clear that immigrants are just being deflected rather than prevented. Immigration needs global reform and not to just be handed off to a neighbor.
Immigration has been on a steady decline for decades. The Washington Office of Latin America reports the number of illegal immigrants being apprehended at the border at the lowest level since the 1970s. CBP reports that immigration was highest in 2006, with 1,000,000 arrests. In 2018, that number was less than half at 396,000. The demographics of migrants attempting to cross the border has also changed dramatically. In the 1990s migrants were mostly single adult males coming to seek work in the United States, today, however, the percentage of women and children seeking refuge has risen drastically while the percentage of single males has declined significantly, as reported by the Department of Homeland Security’s Annual report.
Due to the change in the demographic of migrants and asylum-seekers attempting to enter the United States, a new job description has arisen for the CBP. The facilities at the border were designed decades ago and built to hold single males attempting to cross the border. Currently, however, a large number of those reaching the border require medical attention, safety, food, and shelter. The same things every one of us needs to survive.
As for drug trafficking in 2018, the DEA National Drug Threat Assessment report cites that illegal drugs come through ports of entry rather than illegal border crossings.
The State Department claims that zero terrorists have been found crossing the southern border from Mexico to the United States. In a 2017 report, the State Department states that there is no credible evidence that international terrorist groups established bases in Mexico or sent operatives to the U.S. through the Southern border.
Furthermore, the Department of Homeland Security has estimated that for the fiscal year of 2017, while the number of apprehensions at the border was only about 300,000, there were 700,000 travelers who came to the U.S. with a legal visa. Of those 700,000, an estimated 600,000 are still here.
Why do so many walls go up then? It’s not proven to prevent illegal immigration, but rather just displace it, as can be seen through the CBP’s immigration and arrest numbers. It isn’t proven to prevent drug trafficking, as cited by the DEA’s own report. The southern border isn’t how terrorists are getting into the country, as reported by the State Department. So what exactly will a wall accomplish?
Here’s a thought. It’s a manner of symbolism.
Instead of politicians providing merely lip-service, it allows constituents to see a physical manifestation of action. It’s about appearance and perception over substance and progress.
In 2013, according to the Washington Post, Speaker Nancy Pelosi-D supported a bill put forward by the Gang of Eight (which included Senate Minority Leader, Schumer-D) which required 700 miles of fencing to be erected along the southern border no later than 180 days after the bill passed. These are the same two individuals who currently have the government shutdown over gridlock in border wall funding (along with President Trump). So why the opposition now?
For the same reason. Both sides, the Republicans and Democrats are looking for a highly visible win. They’re looking for something to symbolize they are the better party. Politics have become more about winning than taking care of us, those they were sworn to protect. Today, 800,000 people didn’t receive a paycheck because of the government shutdown, over a wall that would cost next to nothing to build, but also wouldn’t make anyone safer, or improve immigration standards in this country. They shut down the government over nothing but their own egos.
Furthermore, this country was founded on immigration. By condemning those who wish to migrate or seek asylum from entering the United States, we are going against our very bedrock. After all, this is the plaque on our very own Statue of Liberty reads:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
-“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus
Trumps Border Wall- How much will it actually cost: https://www.foxnews.com/opinion/trumps-border-wall-how-much-it-will-actually-cost-according-to-a-statistician
Government Waste 1-4
Government Waste 5-9
Budget Defecit Understanding
A majority of the fact around the history of walls, Why they were built, and if they work.
Post 9/11 changes
Cost of the government shutdown
Effectiveness of past US walls
Hungary border success
Other foreign wall “success” stories
State Department report
Where illegal immigration occurs
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