Donald Trump has made building a wall along the entire border with Mexico a centerpiece of his presidential campaign. It’s a project he insists won’t require much hassle.
“Building a wall is easy, and it can be done inexpensively,” Trump told The Washington Post last summer. “It’s not even a difficult project if you know what you’re doing.”
Sure, humans have been building walls for thousands of years. The mere act of constructing one is pretty simple. But Trump is only half right; his wall will be a construction project borne of the United States federal government, a massive undertaking that will span thousands of miles, take years to build and require an incredible amount of political willpower and bureaucratic maneuvering.
The red tape alone will be like nothing Trump – master builder he may be – has ever faced.
In an effort to discover just how much work it would require a Trump Administration to get his controversial wall project off the ground, CNN Politics spoke to experts on the federal bureaucracy and burrowed through the labyrinth of agencies that played a role in constructing the U.S.-Mexico border fence that former President George W. Bush set in motion in 2006. That was a project that has been beset with setbacks, lack of congressional interest and funding problems.
What became clear as we dug into the bureaucracy is that Trump can’t just wake up on the first day of his presidency and order an army of builders to the border. His administration will first have to find a willing member of Congress to propose a bill in the House or Senate to secure the funds and begin the process. The bill’s chances of survival will depend entirely on the make-up of the next Congress, as there are no guarantees that both chambers will remain under Republican control in 2017. Even if they are, he’ll have to find enough Republicans will be willing to put their names on a multi-billion project that could turn into a boondoggle.
The wall bill would face steeper odds in the Senate, where Democrats are almost guaranteed to stage a filibuster, forcing it to require a two-thirds majority to break it.
Assuming a wall bill passes both chambers and Trump signs it, which will be no small feat, he will then have to face the federal bureaucracy.
The Department of Homeland Security would be saddled with a bulk of the project’s responsibility. They oversee the Border Patrol under the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Those agents will be the ones manning the gates – er, “big, beautiful doors” - -of Trump’s wall.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which falls under the Defense Department, would provide studies and guidance for the project. And the Department of Transportation will have oversight over ensuring regulations are met for any federal roadways near the site.
As for construction, the Department of Labor would have to be involved with any large-scale federal project to oversee labor claims of the builders. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would ensure hiring practices are within the law and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration would oversee any workplace accidents.
The wall, if constructed along the entire border, would stretch across diverse landscapes and natural habitats, snaking through federal land protected by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs under the Department of the Interior. There’s also farm land, bringing in the Department of Agriculture, where agents will study the wall’s impact, since plant an animal life that don’t recognize man-made borders will surely be affected.
The Environmental Protection Agency would need to be consulted to provide an environmental impact statement. The EPA would almost surely raise red flags about the wall’s impact on the environment, but that shouldn’t be much of a problem for Trump: Under Bush’s Border Fence Act in 2006, the Department of Homeland Security was granted the authority to waive any on-the-books regulations that got in the way of the project, so Trump would likely work a similar clause into his plan.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences. The border is home to numerous floodplains, and the wall would block the natural flow of water. Flooding is almost guaranteed, so the Federal Emergency Management Agency will need to provide insight into their plan for such an inevitability.
Other people’s property
There are also massive parcels of private land lining the border, which will require the widespread use of eminent domain. Trump’s lawyers in the Department of Justice would be called upon to defend the federal government’s right to take such land. The National Weather Service under the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would be required to monitor weather patterns.
The International Boundary and Water Commission would oversee disputes over use of the common border areas, such as the Rio Grande, which runs more than 1,000 miles along the border.
Economists and diplomats
As for the human impact, Mexico is one of the United States’ biggest trading partners, so a new slab of concrete dividing the two nations will need to be monitored by the Commerce Department, including the International Trade Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and the Economic Development Administration.
The Mexicans will surely see the project as an affront, so it would require massive feats of diplomacy. That brings in the State Department and all of its diplomats who work with the Mexican government on a regular basis.
The courts and the bean counters
Should Trump follow through on his plan to force Mexico pay for the wall – which would involve blocking people in the United States from sending remittances to families in Mexico – he’ll likely first need to go through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, under the Federal Reserve.
That, and many of parts of his proposal are incredibly controversial, of course, so his administration is liable to be sued, requiring involvements of the federal courts, including, possibly, the U.S. Supreme Court.
The list goes on. But these are just some of the complicated administrative and bureaucratic hurdles a president Trump would have to take on to accomplish what is distilled so simply in his campaign message: “Build a wall.”
As anyone who’s ever worked with the federal government will tell you, it won’t be so easy.
Voice of Wall by Jay McMichael, CNN.