Walling off southern border became an oft-repeated campaign promise and rallying cry
Reality of building the wall could be more difficult than the rallying cries would suggest
President Donald Trump is following through with one of the first pledges he made a year and a half ago when he announced his long-shot bid for the White House – directing federal resources toward building a wall along the southern border.
But the reality of building the wall could be more difficult than the rallying cries would suggest. The length of the wall, when construction will begin, how much it will cost and who will pay for it remain fundamental questions.
There is also ongoing debate about the feasibility of the structure and the need for it in the first place.
Trump’s push for a wall dates back to the day in June 2015 when he announced his campaign and promised to “build a great, great wall on our southern border” and said Mexico would pay.
“Mark my words,” he said for added effect.
His effort to turn those words into reality is expected to be formally announced Wednesday and is among several immigration-related actions anticipated in a multi-day rollout from the new administration.
Since he first made the pledge, walling off our neighbors to the south became an oft-repeated promise and rallying cry, both for the candidate and his supporters. Chants of “build that wall” thundered through arenas and convention halls. In at least one instance, Trump himself led the cheer. Building “an impenetrable physical wall on the southern border, on day one” is listed as item No. 1 on his “10 Point Plan to Put America First.”
At the first press briefing of the new administration Monday, one of the first questions to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was about the wall. Spicer said the administration was working with agency heads and Congress to move forward on the project. He offered no further details.
Reality of building the wall
Not everyone is as enthusiastic as the President about building a wall, including the man whose job it was to secure the U.S. border for the past three years.
“I don’t see any efficacy in building a wall across the border,” said Gil Kerlikowske, who until last week served as Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection under former President Barack Obama.
“The border and migration issues are just unbelievably complex,” Kerlikowske said in an interview with CNN. “And a simple answer to a complex problem is most assuredly the wrong answer.”
Trump has yet to appoint Kerlikowske’s replacement.
Kerlikowske said the rugged terrain in the Arizona desert and the shifting Rio Grande River in Texas, which routinely changes depth and even direction, both represent natural obstacles to building a border wall. Some of the land along the border in the Rio Grande Valley is privately owned, representing another challenge, he said.
Kerlikowske also noted that the vast majority of people trying to enter the US are actually showing up at border entry points and seeking asylum or turning themselves in. Most are not trying to scale the fence in the dark of night, he said. Even if a wall was built, he said, it would require a significant hiring increase to have enough agents to monitor the wall. That would be no easy feat for an agency that is currently 1,200 employees below full strength.
Kerlikowske said that, in addition to some 700 miles of fencing, the border is currently patrolled by agents on foot, bikes, motorcycles, ATVs and horseback. There’s also an air wing, unmanned predator drones, ground sensors, infrared video and tower-mounted video with a range of 25 miles.
“It’s all preferable to a wall,” Kerlikowske said. “Unless you monitor that wall.”
On the campaign trail, Trump told a crowd of supporters in Anaheim, California, in May that he’d reached out to leaders in the union representing Border Patrol agents and asked whether a wall was truly needed.
“Mr. Trump, It’s absolutely vital,” came the reply, he told the crowd. “It’s an absolutely important tool. Maybe our most important tool to stop what’s going on.”
Hearing that, Trump told the crowd:
“We’re going to build the wall. We have no choice.”
At the point, the crowd began chanting, “build that wall.” Trump joined in from the podium.
The National Border Patrol Council, the union representing Border Patrol agents, endorsed Trump for President – marking the first time the group had taken such an action.
Brandon Judd, president of the council, said in a recent interview with CNN, that Trump was “by far the best on border security” when compared with other candidates.
Judd said he didn’t reach that decision based on his pledge to build a wall. He said his group favored “barriers in strategic locations.”
But, importantly, he didn’t say those barriers had to come in the form of a wall as Trump is suggesting.
’Doesn’t have to be a wall’
“It doesn’t have to be a wall,” Judd said.
He called the double fencing along the border in the San Diego area “insanely effective.”