From the very beginning of his historic run for the presidency, Donald Trump has called for a wall on our Southern border, stating forcefully that Mexico would pay for it. Two Mexican presidents begged to differ, using salty, non-politically correct language to express their view.
During an October speech, Trump altered his earlier statement when he said he would ask Congress to approve legislation that fully funds that wall.
By way of explanation, he said, "Don't worry about it. Remember, I said Mexico is paying for the wall, with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such a wall, OK?"
No, not OK. Top Mexican government officials repeated themselves. "No es aceptable," they said. Once again, I've cleaned up their language.
Lest a few people misunderstand and really think Trump can make Mexico write a check, they have made it clear. Crystal, transparent, and painfully obvious. They will not send one thin peso this way. No invoice of any kind will be honored. If the wall is built, the funds will come out of the average taxpayer’s hip pocket. Afterwards, that particular bank will close and the missing cash will not be refunded by the FDIC.
At what cost?
Trump has ignored the loss of the good relations we once had with our North American neighbor. He said the wall could cost up to $12 billion to build. The MIT Technology Review suggested the cost might be closer to $38 billion, more than triple Trump's best guess.
Either number is staggering, especially if the wall cannot accomplish its goal. "And what might that be?" you ask.
Keeping out illegals, be they Mexicans or Central Americans who have made the much longer trek across the length of Mexico, is one often stated goal. Stopping the drug cartels from using the desolate regions of Southernmost Texas or Arizona as their expressway to America's major cities is another. The debate continues and it has become an either/and/or fracas with people coming down hard on one side, the other or both as equal evils.
The illegal immigration problem
According to Wikipedia, "the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has estimated that 11.4 million illegal immigrants lived in the United States in January 2012. According to DHS estimates, "the number of illegal immigrants peaked around 12 million in 2007 and has gradually declined to closer to 11 million." The DHS estimate "is in the same ballpark as several independent organizations that study illegal immigration, including Pew Research Center (11.3 million); the Center for Migration Studies (11 million), which studies migration and promotes policies that safeguard the rights of migrants, and the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for low levels of legal immigration (11–12 million).
For Fiscal Year (FY) 2015, DHS reports that the number of new visa overstays (not counting late departures) was 527,127. For FY 2015, DHS conducted a total of 462,463 removals and returns. For the same time period, ICE removed or returned 235,413 individuals. As of 2015, illegal immigration to the United States continued to decline in comparison to its peak in the year 2000.
In simple terms, the problem of illegal immigration seems to be gradually tempering itself via self-deportation, as Mitt Romney famously suggested during his failed 2012 run for the Oval Office.
"The answer is self-deportation," he said, "which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can't find work here because they don't have legal documentation to allow them to work here. And so we're not going to round people up."
Could it be that a wall might do just the opposite of what some people intended? Could it actually prevent many illegals from returning home? The outflow has been going on for almost 16 years now and it has happened without the onerous expense of a wall.
Stopping the drug trade
Ranchers all along the border have seen the rancid leavings of drug trafficking - abandoned and trash strewn encampments, if they're lucky. Others have been victims of robberies, sometimes at gunpoint; home invasions, even murder if they weren't so lucky.
In a story carried by Denver's 9News and brought to my attention by Montana rancher and ex-NCBA president Bill Donald, the danger was highlighted during an interview with Jim Chilton, an Arizona rancher whose property lies hard on the Mexican border. His property has become a drug cartel super highway.
Showing a camera crew where many of the drug porters cross, he said, “Any young 19, 20-year-old throws his pack of drugs over the fence, crawls under or over and walks into the United States. There’s no Border Patrol."
You can read the entire story here: http://www.9news.com/news/local/arizona-border-rancher-says-trumps-wall-....
Therein lies the problem. His ranch is remote, miles away from anywhere and nestled along a border that stretches for a mostly empty and rarely patrolled strip of land that's nearly 2,000 miles long. Just over a fourth of that is currently fenced, much of it little more than barbed wire or chain link. It's perfect for keeping cattle home but ineffectual at stopping a drug mule.
Building a wall of any kind on a long and imaginary line drawn through mountains, desert, and rivers, and along side cities and towns will be a hyper-expensive and logistical nightmare. Keeping it secure might prove impossible. As a man once said, "Build a ten foot fence and I'll bring an 11 foot ladder. Top it with concertina wire and I'll bring a shovel."
Those 19, 20 year olds Chilton mentioned will be momentarily amused when faced by a fence constructed through the big empty that's our Southern border, but stopped from completing their journey, even with the added defenses of helicopters, increased patrols and high tech video assistance? Unlikely.
Do walls work?
Walls have a history of failure. The Great Wall of China we see today was built by the Ming dynasty in the 1400s to keep out the Mongols and Manchurians. It didn't work. The Berlin Wall, East Germany's failed post WW2 effort to keep its population from escaping to a more prosperous West, was knocked down soon after Ronald Reagan said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"
A better use of the billions a wall would cost might be to better fund America's efforts to dry up the market. Drug cartels, after all, exist at the very hardest edge of the most soulless version of capitalism. If there is no profit be had, there will be no product to be 'transported.' If there is a promise of profit, no amount of effort will stem the tide.
As long as a lucrative market exists, the cartels will go over, around, under or through any natural or man made barrier to serving it. Making life safer for Mr. Chilton will only make it more dangerous for someone else. Time to attack the real social problem and not offer useless but 'feel good' fixes.
“Sometimes our walls exist just to see who has the strength to knock
― Darnell Lamont Walker
The opinions in this commentary are those of Chuck Jolley, a veteran journalist and commentator.