The Basics of a Border Wall

The Basics of a Border Wall

Blog Post

By No Labels

The Basics of a Border Wall

As anyone who watched the 2016 election knows, President Trump’s promise to put a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border was a cornerstone of his campaign. Now, the wall is likely to play a major role in the immigration debate pending in Congress.

Many Republican and Democratic lawmakers want to protect the young undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers from deportation, but any such legislation will have to contain border security measures in order to win enough votes in Congress. Trump is insisting that any bill include funding to build a wall.

As the debate ensues, here’s what you need to know about the prospect of a wall on America’s southern border.

What is involved in building a wall?

There are almost 2,000 miles of border between the United States and Mexico. But a border wall would not have to cover the entire length. There are already man-made barriers covering about 650 miles, and terrain—like rivers and mountains—provides a natural barrier in many places. A new border wall would have to run between 700 miles and 1,300 miles, with estimates varying considerably. For perspective, a 1,000-mile wall would be longer than the California coastline and about a fifth the length of China’s Great Wall.

Trump has already signed an executive order to begin work on a wall, and eight prototype sections have been built in California. One thing is clear: The wall represents a gigantic engineering and construction challenge. Much of the border is remote and lacks infrastructure such as roads. There are also environmental issues and land rights to address. Then there’s the design. The wall is supposed to prevent climbing or tunneling and withstand a sustained attack. How thick and how high will it be? Will it be built of concrete or other materials? Will it be precast or built on site? Will it be solid or transparent like a gate? All of these questions have to be answered before construction can begin.

How much would it cost?

To build the wall, Congress will have to appropriate funds. Mexican officials say they will not directly pay for the wall. With so many variables in construction, and opposing viewpoints, cost estimates vary a great deal. An internal report by the Department of Homeland Security last year set the cost at $21.6 billion for “fences and walls covering just over 1,250 miles (2,000 km) by the end of 2020,” Reuters reported. That does not count maintenance, but that number is often cited. A report by Senate Democrats was more than three times as high at $70 billon.

Whatever the exact amount, the wall would represent a significant cost, even by Washington standards, and expense will likely be a major factor in the debate. For perspective, a modern Navy aircraft carrier costs about $12.9 billion. In addition to the cost of construction, the wall will also have maintenance expenses.

What’s on the border now?

The border already has some man-made barriers, thanks to the Secure Fence Act of 2006. That bill, which had bipartisan support, erected an 18-foot-high fence over more than 650 miles of border at a cost of about $2.4 billion. Some of the land used for the fence was acquired via eminent domain.

What is the state of play?

It appears that a showdown over the border wall is ahead. Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program last year, meaning that roughly 800,000 participants will be eligible for deportation in March. Democrats in Congress have said these immigrants must be protected to win their support for a spending bill, which has a Jan. 19 deadline for passage (unless Congress extends it).

The result is that an immigration debate is all but imminent, and there is not yet any consensus on how to proceed. Trump has said any deal must include a wall, and some — but not all – Republicans support him. Congressional Democrats have said they will support some forms of border security but not a physical wall. We don’t know how or when this immigration and Dreamer debate will resolve and for now the “wall question” appears to be the greatest barrier to a solution.

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