Trump's Great Wall Will Be Costly and Useless and Mexico Won't Pay For It

You will, dear American taxpayers.


Border wall
Tony Webster via Foter

As expected, Donald Trump, the builder, is turning into a one-man wrecking machine demolishing the very things that have made America great: Trade and immigration. He kicked off day one of his presidency by scrapping the Trans Pacific Partnership, a pointless and stupid move that will subvert every single one his broader policy objectives, as I wrote here.

And now comes word that he is planning a series of executive orders that will do the same on immigration. News reports suggest that Trump is considering three orders this week pertaining to building the wall, suspending the refugee program and cracking down on sanctuary cities. Not only are all three foolish, but they are also fooling the American public.

Let's focus on the wall that Trump repeatedly billed during his campaign as essential to cutting illegal flows and regaining control of the border. As per CNN, Trump will direct the Department of Homeland Security to:

begin construction of the border wall, as well as take steps to repair existing areas of fencing along the frontier between the US and Mexico. The order will also include a mandate to increase staff at Customs and Border Protection by 5,000 and alleviate the flood of migrants fleeing violence in Central America. [That's just a start; Trump's ultimate goal is to triple the size of the border patrol from the current 20,000.]

According to the person familiar with the plans, Trump's executive order will require DHS to publicly detail what aid is currently directed to Mexico, an indication of an eventual move toward redirecting some of that money to fund the wall's construction—and giving cover for a longstanding campaign promise to have Mexico pay for the structure.

The good news here is that Trump has backed off from his original cockamamie idea of paying for the wall by confiscating the hard-earned remittances of Mexican workers in America—turning this great country literally into a kleptocracy of the likes that even the Third World hasn't seen.

But let me help Trump out with the fiscal math on his wall a bit: Just a single-layer fence—not a wall—on the 1,300 miles of the open Southern border will cost upwards of $6 billion—assuming, as per a CBO study, pedestrian fencing costs of $6.5 million per mile and vehicle fencing costs of $1.7 million per mile. A single Border Patrol agent costs about $171,400 annually. So tripling that force would add up to a whopping $7 billion or so more a year, according to the CBO. Annual maintenance costs would be hundreds of millions of dollars. In short, the total hit if cost projections don't balloon—a big if, assuming that Trump won't use illegal Mexican workers and will use only American steel—would be somewhere close to $15 billion upfront, give or take, of even a modest version of Trump's plan.

But as per, the United States gave Mexico about $210 million in economic and military assistance in 2012. Much of the military assistance, mind you, is not to subsidize Mexico's own security bill but to wage America's destructive drug war. But even if all that money is channeled toward the wall, which it won't be given that Trump also talks about doubling down on the drug war to stop the flow of drug traffickers from Mexico, this aid will pay not even for the wall's annual maintenance cost.

But that's not the real shame. The real shame is that Trump is fighting the last war here.

According to Pew Research Center, net migration flows from Mexico have been negative since 2008. In other words, more Mexicans are leaving the country than entering. Indeed, unauthorized immigrants from Mexico aren't "pouring in," as Trump claims. They peaked at 6.9 million in 2007 and currently stand at 5.6 million. However, return migration of Mexican nationals and their children is now higher than migration of Mexicans heading to the U.S.

What's more, these immigrants are not criminals and are not disproportionately represented in federal and state prisons. To the contrary, they are less crime prone than the native population. Cities that have long been gateways for immigrants such as El Paso, San Antonio and San Diego have experienced a drop in violent crime rates.

And the 2010 Census data reveals that incarceration rates among the young, less-educated Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan men who make up the bulk of the unauthorized population is three times less than native born who lack a high-school diploma.

To be sure, the data on immigrant crime rates isn't not great, but to the extent that it exists, Politifact found:

In 2013, there were fewer than 100,000 noncitizens—legal and undocumented—in federal and state prisons. If you add in local jails, it's quite possible but uncertain that the total number of incarcerated illegal immigrants is above 100,000, though it's also possible that many of these individuals are held for immigration violations as opposed to other crimes.

If that figure is remotely correct, Trump is going to waste gobs of taxpayer money to make America less safe.

But what did you expect?