A Wall or a White Elephant?

Back in June 2017, the BBC did an excellent, in-depth and well-researched report about the problems associated with Trump’s proposed ‘big, beautiful wall’ that Mexico isn’t going to pay for.  It is worth visiting at this time, when Trump’s demands that his wall be funded have caused a partial shutdown of our government and have contributed to a tumbling stock market.  What is the reality about building the wall?  What is the likely cost?  What are some of the hurdles?

I want to share some of the more salient points, and you can read the entire report using the link (above). The report breaks it down into six areas:


1. The geography is pretty unfriendly

In fact, the actual border is, in many places, defined as the deepest channel of the river. Building a wall in the middle of the Rio Grande would be challenging for obvious reasons, but there are also legal issues. A treaty signed by Mexico and the US in 1889 prevents any disruption to the flow of the river, meaning any border wall would probably have to be built on its banks. This, again, presents obvious problems.

While two thirds of its length runs along rivers, the southern US border also bisects other challenging environments – desert in California and Arizona and mountains in New Mexico.

In eastern California, there are the Algodones – or Imperial Sand Dunes – the largest sand dune ecosystem in the US. There is already a section of “floating fence” here, specifically engineered to work with the shifting sands, installed by the George W Bush administration.sand dunesMeanwhile, Arizona and New Mexico are mountainous. Coronado National Forest, in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico, has several 9,000-ft peaks.

A wall appears impossible here.border-1The US-Mexico border has a delicate ecosystem that could be disrupted by any new barrier. A wall would prevent animals reaching their hunting lands, water sources and migration corridors. Grey wolves and jaguars hunt on both sides of the border. Other cross-border populations of wildlife include bison, bighorn sheep, ocelots and bears.

2. The price tag will be rather huge

Mr Trump’s initial price tag of between $8bn and $12bn has been widely disputed.

The 650 miles of fencing built under President George W Bush cost an estimated $7bn, and it could not be described as fulfilling Mr Trump’s promises of a “tall, powerful, beautiful” barrier.

A number of very different estimates have been put forward by other official bodies.

wall cost

It should be noted that the costs in the Senate Democrats’ report are based on information provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

3. Actually building it is really difficult

In addition to the complex structural work, there is the surveying, land acquisition and access road-building.

Inviting companies to submit designs, the FedBizOpps.gov website stated the “cost-effective” structure must be made of reinforced concrete and:

Be “physically imposing in height”, towering at least 18ft above the border
Be impossible to breach with a ladder or grappling hooks and require at least an hour to breach with tools
Be sunk at least 6ft into the ground to prevent tunnelling
Blend in with the “surrounding environment” and be “aesthetically pleasing” from the north side
Include 25ft and 50ft gates for pedestrians and vehicles

However, the government, alongside its call for concrete wall designs, has asked for submissions for a “see-through component/capability” that “facilitates situational awareness”. This appears to suggest that the government is considering building out of materials other than concrete.

4. Trying to get hold of the land could be a nightmare

In order to build the wall, the government needs permission to use the land it stands on. However, about 66% of land along the US-Mexico border is either owned privately, by Native Americans or by individual states. In these cases, the government will need to coordinate mass voluntary sales of property or negotiate a right of way for the wall along large swaths of land.

Thousands of homeowners could be affected, including ranchers in Texas – among them Donald Trump supporters – who rely on access to the Rio Grande and pastures for their livestock. Trying to purchase this land could be a major challenge and if people refuse, the government would have to forcibly get hold of it.

Welcome to the term “eminent domain”. Eminent domain is a system used to gain ownership of private property for public use, such as for highways and railroads, usually accompanied by compensation. It has been used for the construction of border fences in the past.

Gerald S Dickinson, assistant professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, has warned that such eminent domain fights could take years.  Any federal eminent domain action on such a large scale against even a few landowners could trigger “decades of court disputes before anything is built”.

The proprietors of Tribal lands have already voiced firm opposition. The Tohono O’odham Nation owns much of such land, including a reservation that extends along 75 miles of the border in Arizona. Tribe members still live on both sides of the border, considering the territory their ancestral lands, and have indicated they will attempt to block construction if the wall goes ahead. Should that happen, Mr Trump would need a bill from Congress to acquire the land, which is currently protected under law.

5. It needs regular patrols to make it work

Homeland Security secretary, John F Kelly, has himself said that a “physical barrier will not do the job” and that you would have to back it up with patrolling human beings, sensors and observation devices.Tony-Estrada.png

“These people are coming from thousands and thousands of miles at great expense and in great danger. They have been victimised most of the way. Do you think a wall is gonna stop them? No, it’s just going to be another obstacle.” – Tony Estrada,Santa Cruz County Sheriff

6. U.S. and Mexican border towns rely on each other.  

Sealing off the border would also affect the economies of border towns and affect the wider US-Mexican economy – something many US politicians would be keen to avoid.

Communities along the US side of the border have developed close and dependant economic relationships with their sister cities in Mexico. Many Mexican towns are home to US factories employing thousands of people and Mexican shoppers spend billions of dollars in US border states every year.

The wall could also impact on the wider US-Mexico economic relationship too. Mexico is America’s second largest export market and America is Mexico’s largest.  The two countries have a “very deep” economic relationship, explains Christopher Wilson, deputy director of the Mexico Institute at the think-tank the Wilson Center, with five million US jobs depending on it. The Wilson Center’s research suggests that if trade between the US and Mexico were halted, 4.9 million Americans would be out of work.

The two economies are now so interconnected, Mr Wilson says, that they no longer just sell finished products to each other, but instead “actually build products together”.


The facts, I believe, speak for themselves and Trump’s dream of a ‘big, beautiful wall’ is more aptly a white elephant.  The scheme is reckless and irresponsible and should not have been allowed to shut down parts of the federal government, putting over 300,000 people out of work and causing another 400,000 to be forced to work without pay.  Unconscionable.  white_elephant