Yesterday, the prototypes for the U.S south border were erected and they are ready for the durability tests against pickaxes, power tools and sledgehammers.
The border wall was a main point in the campaign of the now 45th president of the United States Donald Trump, who sees it as a panacea to the illegal immigration problem of the U.S.
There is one problem though: a wall will not work. Or to be more accurate, for the amount of money and resources put into such a project, the return of investment will be very low.
This is not to advocate unchecked immigration, but here we examine a piece of infrastructure that will cost the US taxpayer billions to be built and billions to be maintained, and the question is, is it worth it?
Before we get into the utility of such a structure, let’s put into perspective just how complicated the endeavor itself actually is.
Acquiring the land is no small feat in and of itself: federal land, state-owned land, private land, tribal land, and even border cities: the wall must pass through all of them. For private and tribal lands the issue is obvious, some will simply refuse to move and legal battles are sure to follow. State owned lands are no smaller problem, and even federal owned ones are no sure bet, not for their availability, as they fall under land management laws that must be followed. In one case, border patrol had to wait for eight months for permission to install a single motion sensor.
That is just one issue. Water rights treaties with Mexico and the existing fencing that turns into a dam after heavy downpours causing floods, are other matters for consideration. If fencing can be clogged with debris and become a dam, imagine how a solid wall will act.
However as with any barrier, the main question is, will it stop people?
In 2012, visa overstays accounted for 58% of illegal immigrants for that year. Those are people no barrier can stop: they enter legally and stay for longer than allowed. What a wall will do, though, is force them to stay even if that was not their original plan. The same applies for people who cross the borders without any check of paperwork.
The numbers of Mexican illegal immigrants are on constant decline. Despite the well-known problems with the drug cartels, the economy in Mexico is on an upward swing, while birth rates are down. All that makes people less eager to leave.
Most illegal immigrants now come from poor Central America countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, countries with nowhere near the population numbers of Mexico, which means smaller numbers of people who will attempt the trip.
Crossing the border is a trip that has a shitload of danger and financial burden to it. Many people fall victim to cartels: one known case is the execution of 58 men and 14 women by the Zetas Cartel in what is known as the San Fernando massacre. They didn’t have money to pay the fee the Zetas asked, so they were executed.
Smuggling people is a business and we must admit that President Trump’s early rhetoric on securing the border, along with the unknown number of border guards that will be hired in the coming years, and the longer leash that ICE has had lately, is driving the cost up for anyone who wants to enter the U.S.
The price for smuggling a person from Central America to Mexico and then to the U.S. has increased from $3,000 to $8,000 since October last year.
That sum amounts to years of savings in countries where monthly salaries are approximately $500. Combined with the perception that staying in the U.S. will not be so easy since ICE is in hunt mode, it makes people more reluctant to try. The DEA would have loved to force such an increase on drug prices, as prices of illicit goods are an indicator of how much pressure your policing actions put on the bad guys.
For those reasons there is a substantial decline in people trying to cross the USA-Mexico border. In October 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained about 45,000 people; by March 2017, that monthly figure had fallen to 17,000.(1)
Cartels are another set of people who President Trump wants to stop with the wall.
Cartels have over the years tried various ways of trafficking drugs, from “mules” tunneling, to hiding drugs in trucks that cross the border, to load-carrying drones, and even catapults have been employed in the fenced areas.
Cartels are difficult to counter because they have the money and the manpower to pull a vast array of tricks from tunneling way beyond the wall’s seismic sensors to the use of drones to go above it. We are talking about guys that had their own signals intelligence and commo networks in Mexico, and the now famous Cali Cartel (of “Narcos” fame) is rumored to have had access to a cray supercomputer. When you have that kind of money, all toys are available. In the event of a problem being too hard for the cartel leadership, you can always force people who have the required expertise to work for you.
The only use the wall can have is as a symbol of a very tough stance on the issue and to make good on a campaign promise. Neither of those is worth $26 billion, and who knows how much more to man and maintain the wall.
There are measures that can be taken with a fraction of the cost that will actual deter illegal entry. The effect of ICE running around and the fear of a large increase of border guards have already made the whole endeavor prohibitively expensive for a large number of people. For visa overstays, biometrics are considered as a solution to check if a person has left the U.S. All that, again, with a fraction of the cost.
With China growing bolder, the need to upgrade infrastructure of the U.S. and a multitude of other problems, building castles in the sand is not advisable.
“Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man”
George S. Patton
Featured image courtesy of AP