The Border Wall Is Trump's 'Repeal and Replace'
The latest slapdash Republican stab at health-care legislation has collapsed in the U.S. Senate. A Republican tax plan -- likely consisting of cuts for the wealthiest deceptively sold as growth-generating "reform" -- awaits action. And off in the distance, lingering around Texas and Arizona, is the concrete fraud of Donald Trump's border wall.
Donald Trump surely didn't care about the operational particulars when he first proposed a wall along the border. It was a metaphor for his campaign's central promise: to restrict the flow of brown people -- Muslims, Mexicans, refugees -- into the U.S. But if Trump doesn't care about details, others do.
In a remarkable multimedia report, a team of USA Today reporters did the kind of research a different presidential administration might profit from. The reporters surveyed the entire 2,000-mile length of the border, by air and land, in English and Spanish. Much of the terrain is physically daunting. Some is legally daunting. In Texas, which occupies more than half the border, 4,900 privately owned parcels of land "sit within 500 feet of the border."
After passage of the Secure Fence Act in 2006, Customs and Border Protection used eminent domain to seize (and pay for) hundreds of private parcels along the Rio Grande. The cost was enormous, the political backlash furious.
At the same time, the river’s bending hydrology created design nightmares. The border adheres to a pretzel-like channel. Fencing to match would have meant financial chaos and potential catastrophe.
Nine years after that legislation passed, USA Today reported, the U.S. is still litigating 85 of more than 300 court actions to seize land.
Currently, the border patrol maintains 654 miles of fencing, with only about 354 miles of that targeted at stopping (more accurately, slowing) illegal pedestrian traffic. This fencing was designated for places where it would be most practical and effective. The Government Accountability Office reported that the fencing to stop pedestrian traffic cost an average of $6.5 million per mile, while fencing to restrict vehicle crossings cost $1.8 million per mile. Pretty pricey, even before the government revs up the eminent-domain business or gets into more challenging topography.
Edifices require maintenance. "Agents we spoke with in the Tucson sector," reported the GAO, "told us they have witnessed illegal entrants attempting to use ramps to drive vehicles up and over vehicle fencing in the sector as well as burrowing under legacy pedestrian fencing."
The GAO reported that from 2010 through 2015, Customs and Border Protection recorded 9,287 breaches in pedestrian fencing at an average repair cost of $784 per breach. (Ladders, of course, enable undocumented immigrants to climb over fencing without damaging it.)
In 2009, the border patrol estimated that maintaining the limited amount of fencing it had would cost more than $1 billion over 20 years. While the agency can estimate how much fencing costs, it has never gotten around to assessing whether fencing has significant deterrent value.
"Despite these investments, CBP cannot measure the contribution of fencing to border security operations along the southwest border because it has not developed metrics for this assessment," the GAO reported.
No matter. Trump issued an executive order on Jan. 25 demanding the "immediate construction of a physical wall" and, within 180 days, a “strategy to obtain and maintain complete operational control of the southern border.”
He still has no strategy, no wall and no evidence that a wall is anything but an elaborate joke on his most fervent red-cappers. But Trump still went to Phoenix last month and threatened to shut down the federal government if Congress fails to fund his campaign metaphor.
Illegal border crossings have been declining for the better part of two decades, and it's hard to find border-state Republicans who are excited about Trump's knowledge-free, multibillion-dollar commitment at the border. The wall may not even matter all that much to Trump's followers. He seems eminently capable of transferring the focus of their rage elsewhere -- to black athletes earning enviable salaries, for example.
But Trump spread his wall demagogy for months on end, just as Republicans in Congress spent years perpetrating their "repeal and replace" fiction. So random pieces of expensive, pointless wall, like shoddy pieces of health-care legislation, may simply be the price Washington demands for exorbitant amounts of bad faith.
Many congressional Republicans will likely roll their eyes at this. They don't want to waste money on a wall. And many seem to regard the president, whom they know to be ignorant, mendacious and incompetent, with condescension. But perhaps they shouldn't be so judgmental. Trump is hardly an accidental Republican. In 2017, he may even be a quintessential one.
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Katy Roberts at email@example.com