Prepare to be upstaged, China. Here comes the Great Wall of Trump.
“We’re building a wall,” Donald Trump told moderator John Dickerson Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “And it’s going to be a great wall. And, by the way, Mexico will pay for it. It’s going to a great wall, because I know how to build. And it’s not going to cost nearly as much as what they’re saying for a crummy wall.”
The GOP front-runner has no use for crummy walls. Crummy policies advocating repeal of the 14th Amendment and an end to birthright citizenship, yes. But crummy walls, no. It will even have a “very big, very beautiful door” for people we want to let back in.
Trump insists he was just kidding when he suggested during a campaign stop that the giant wall he promises to build on the 1,954-mile-long border with Mexico might one day bear his name.
But after two months of watching Trump the presidential candidate, Americans should have learned this much: When it comes to promoting his brand, Trump never kids.
So the Great Wall of Trump it is. The only thing left to decide is the exact size of the enormous letters spelling out “TRUMP” and whether they will face the U.S. or Mexico side.
Actually, there are a few other pesky details to work through. They come from a place I like to call: the real world.
For instance, those 1,954 miles cover just about every sort of terrain you can imagine—valley, mountain, desert, river, Indian reservation, private land, state property. Ever try to build a wall on a river, or atop an Indian burial ground, or through the library of a state university? It’s tricky. And once the environmentalists and the EPA get involved, it’s nearly impossible.
Then there’s the fact that no one seems to know what it would cost. In the last six years, estimates for building a fence—which is probably much cheaper than building a wall—have ranged wildly from $1 million per mile to $15 million per mile, depending on where the fence goes. At that price, fencing for 2,000 miles would cost between $2 billion and $30 billion.
Currently, about a third of the border already has fencing, mostly in California, Arizona, and New Mexico. But building a wall probably means starting from scratch.
Undeterred, Trump seems intent on building what could well be the Taj Majal of border walls.
Still, I have yet more bad news for the emperor. After all the fuss, and what you can bet would be one unbelievably lavish grand opening, the Great Wall of Trump likely wouldn’t do such a great job of stopping illegal immigration.
You see, walls won’t do wonders. At least that’s what I’ve heard from border patrol agents each of the half dozen times I’ve visited the U.S.-Mexico border—in Arizona, Texas, and California. They don’t mind the additional fencing, and many of them will tell you that it does tend to slow down some would-be border crossers and give border patrol agents more time to get to the scene.
But they just wish Congress didn’t waste so much time and political capital on debating the fence as if it were a cure-all for illegal immigration.
As one especially wise border patrol agent once told me, “There is no barrier known to man that will stop someone who has traveled hundreds of miles to feed his family. He will go over, under, or around anything you put up.”
The only way to put a dent in illegal immigration is to penalize employers. No jobs, no illegal immigrants. The trouble is, in both political parties, there is no appetite for getting tough with a group of people who can utter six little words that strike fear into the hearts of politicians everywhere: “I’m stopping payment on the check.”
In fact, if our earlier attempts at building border walls and fencing in the early 1990s is any guide, a big wall might even backfire and make the problem worse.
As has been documented by noted border experts such as sociology professor Douglas Massey of Princeton and Wayne Cornelius of University of California, San Diego—both of whom have studied the border for as long as Trump has bought real estate—walls don’t just keep people out but also pen people in.
So those 11 million undocumented immigrants who are already here won’t feel so inclined to go home to Mexico for Christmas or Mother’s Day, like they used to, and where there was always a chance that some of them would stay. Now, unsure that they’d be able to return if they left, they’ll just resign themselves to putting down roots and staying on this side of the border.
Thus, a measure intended to keep out additional Mexican immigrants might just ensure that we keep the ones who are already here.
Still, I don’t expect facts, cost, logic, research, or past experience to dissuade Trump or his supporters. They’re stuck on the idea of building a giant, expensive, gaudy, white elephant wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. And nothing will pull them off.
So what more can I say, except: “Go ahead, folks. Knock yourselves out. Build, baby, build.”
Once you construct your precious wall, and immigrant smugglers respond by tripling their fees and building tunnels underneath it (or simply leasing drug tunnels that are already there) to stay in business, you can admit you were wrong, put aside simplistic solutions and think more deeply about how to deal with illegal immigration.
To show there are no hard feelings, I’ll even recommend a company with some expertise in that area. Let’s see. Where did I leave that business card? Oh yeah, here it is.
President Trump should call the Golden State Fence Company in Riverside, California. Launched in 1984, the company—which has contracted with the U.S. government to build fences on the U.S.-Mexico border—at one point had as many as 750 employees and generated annual revenue of about $150 million.
Oh, wait. There is no more Golden State Fence Company. The outfit is now called Fenceworks, Inc. That’s because the Golden State Fence Company was busted in 1999, 2004, and 2005 for hiring illegal immigrants—to build the fencing that was meant to keep out illegal immigrants.
Immigration agents estimate that as much as 50 percent of the company’s workforce were in the country illegally. Owner Melvin Kay took a plea bargain where he paid $5 million and spent six months under house arrest, during which time he continued to bid on government contracts.
When punishing those who employ illegal immigrants, that’s how we roll. Americans talk loudly but carry a small stick. And the problem continues.
So, go ahead. Build your dang wall. Feel better. And nothing will change.