On Tuesday, Donald Trump made a big announcement: the price tag of his proposed border wall.
Just a cool $8 billion, he says, will build 1,000 miles of “great wall” with a “big, very beautiful door” to let in “the good people”—and it won’t cost Americans a penny because Mexico’s going to pay for the whole thing.
Not only is this wall going to stop illegal immigration, but it’s also going to keep all the illegal drugs out of America. “No drugs are coming in,” Trump said in New Hampshire on Saturday. “We’re going to build a wall. You know what I’m talking about. You have confidence in me. Believe me, I will solve the problem.” (Ted Cruz, by the way, has the same idea.)
It would be nice, of course, if all it took to stop drug use was a really big fence. And though Trump deserves credit for apparently wanting to treat drug use as a health problem rather than a crime, his wall plan is neither realistic nor responsible on at least five counts.
First, the wall in question pretty much already exists. Sure, in some places it’s bigger than in others, but the smaller fences are located in regions where dangerous terrain and extremely high temperatures act as a significant barrier to construction and immigration alike.
As for the gaps in the fence, they’re mostly on private property, so even if we follow Trump’s plan and attempt to fill in those gaps, we’re looking at a massive violation of Americans’ private property rights. (Not that Trump has ever had a problem with eminent domain…)
Second, $8 billion is a very conservative estimate of the wall’s cost. Though Trump says he got that total by “multiplying the number of miles by a certain number,” it’s not quite that simple. So far, most miles of the southern border wall have cost “only” $2.8 to $3.9 million.
The remaining miles where Trump wants to build are, again, generally located on private property and/or more difficult terrain. Both of those factors can dramatically raise the per-mile price. One mile near San Diego, for instance, cost $16 million to build. At that rate, Trump’s 1,000 miles would cost double his $8 billion estimate. In fact, independent estimates say $16 billion is likely on the low end to finish fencing the southern border; $25 billion—three times Trump’s rate—is a more realistic cost.
Third, Mexico has no intention of ponying up. Former Mexican president Felipe Calderón said Monday that his country will not “pay any single cent for such a stupid wall, and it’s going to be completely useless.” A representative of the current Mexican president, Enrique Pena Nieto, said the same thing back in August.
If Mexico won’t pay, Trump wrote in his immigration issue paper, he proposes to start a trade war, hiking visa and border crossing fees, as well as “impound[ing] all remittance payments derived from illegal wages.” Ironically, this would punish legal immigrants and travelers, and commit more atrocities against private property via the remittance confiscation plan. (It would also be next to impossible to distinguish between legal and illegal remittances without massive violations of financial privacy.)
Fourth, Trump’s broader immigration reform proposal would be expensive for taxpayers, bad for business, and a huge expansion of government. It would require hiring 10,000 new federal employees, cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and require all employers to participate in a creepy national database of workers that the government could easily misuse and abuse. This yuuge regulatory burden is hardly wise or conservative.
Fifth, and finally, it is frankly silly to suggest that the wall will stop drugs (let alone people) from coming into America. “Posit a wall along our southern border, and you can be sure that drug traffickers will find ways over, under, around, and through it,” notes Jacob Sullum at Reason. He adds, “If drugs can get into prisons, they can get into the United States as long as people here want them, no matter how much political will we summon or how much money we spend on border security.”
Already, more than 100 known drug tunnels run underneath our southern border. Unless Trump’s wall is going to extend deep into the ground—at even greater cost—it will have no effect on sophisticated drug runners.
Donald Trump is right about one thing: he’s a good salesman. But when it comes to the border wall, what he’s selling is mostly wishful thinking.