So, remember when President Donald Trump said that “walls work”? About that — I’ve got some bad news for all the wall enthusiasts out there. They really, really don’t.
This weekend, we discovered that “smugglers have found that all you need to cut through the wall is a $100 saw,” and that smugglers have been carving gaps large enough for people and drugs to move across the border. But that’s just the most recent blow to the president’s favorite construction project. While Trump has also declared categorically that “this wall can't be climbed,” it turns out that it can.
In Kentucky, a rock climber last month built a replica of the wall, and climbers surmounted it in as quickly as 13 seconds; the youngest climber to to do so was only eight years old. According to Vox, smugglers have also figured out how to scale the actual wall using ladders, which clearly is a technological advancement that the best and brightest of the U.S. government never could have predicted.
As a reminder, this is the same wall that has cost about $10 billion in taxpayer dollars so far — and those are American taxpayers’ dollars, not Mexico’s.
Understandably, you might think that between the demonstrated ineffectiveness of Trump’s vaunted campaign promise, its cost and the 64 percent of Americans who oppose its construction, the administration might not be quite so gung-ho to get it built. But you would be mistaken: acting Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Mark Morgan said last month that he expects 450 miles of new wall to be completed by the end of 2020.
Mr. [acting DHS secretary name here], build this wall!
Despite Morgan’s optimism, there are significant barriers to the construction of a barrier at the southern border, not the least of which is that the Department of Homeland Security is all but rudderless. As reported by Politico last week, the president and DHS disagree over who’s in charge of the department, and the incoming acting secretary, Chad Wolf, hasn’t even been confirmed for his real job — DHS undersecretary — yet.
The confusion has since been resolved by the White House, but while Wolf will likely take over starting Nov. 11, no permanent nominee has been named for the secretary job.
Then again, perhaps that shouldn’t be too surprising considering the tumultuous tenure of former DHS secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. The New York Times reported in early October that Trump had “routinely berated Ms. Nielsen as ineffective and, worse — at least in his mind — not tough-looking enough.”
After repeated clashes with the president, the Times wrote, “unbeknown to her, Ms. Nielsen’s staff started work on her letter of resignation.” The coup de grâce to Nielsen’s government career was later delivered via Twitter, in typical fashion.
Trump has also suggested various embellishments to the wall, including the addition of a moat stocked with snakes or alligators, and spikes that could “pierce human flesh.” Failing that, the president has looked to supplement the wall’s (in)effectiveness with crimes against humanity, such as shooting migrants in the legs to slow them down or using lethal force in response to thrown rocks.
There are a few other problems with the wall too, namely that pesky “private property” thing. In Texas, The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration possess only about 16% of the land it needs to build its planned wall, and only 2% of the Texas stretch of wall has been completed ahead of the targeted 2020 completion date.
The president, of course, isn’t concerned about such things as eminent domain law. “Take the land,” he reportedly told officials in defiance of the Fifth Amendment. “Don’t worry, I’ll pardon you.”
With funding set to expire on Nov. 21, yet another appropriations fight centered on the wall is also on the horizon. A 35-day partial government shutdown ended in January when Trump gave way on his funding demand, but the conflict is poised to come roaring back.
“There is such animosity and bitterness and confrontation, it’s going to be really difficult to get agreement on anything,” former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., told the AP. “So I worry about whether or not we can even pass a CR.”
Ultimately, all the narratives around the wall and all the challenges in its construction come back to this: in the words of Robert Frost, among others, “we do not need the wall.” Note the definite article, eschewed with unintentional comic effect by Nielsen last year.
The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, calls a wall “impractical, expensive, and ineffective.” House Foreign Affairs ranking member Michael McCaul, R-Texas, described it as “an inefficient use of taxpayer money.” PBS points out that despite Trump’s conviction “that a physical wall is the key part of immigration enforcement,” most experts disagree.
“Even if you get a sea-to-shining-sea wall, then people would just build ladders, ramps and other ways — tunnels — in order to get around it,” Cato Institute policy analyst David Bier told PBS. “It’s just not reflective of the reality, which is people will come if they want to come.”
So while sections of fence might continue to go up, albeit almost certainly slower than the president would like, it continues to be less a solution and more fodder for demonstrably false campaign ads and chants at rallies.
And while the president will likely continue to extemporize about the wall’s progress, it’s still not really being built, as the Post and Axios both point out. All construction at the border so far has involved replacing existing barriers, and no new fencing has been erected to date.
Lastly, it’s definitely, definitely not being built in Colorado, as the president erroneously (“kiddingly”) asserted at an October rally in Pittsburgh. Colorado, of course, shares precisely zero border with Mexico, as helpfully demonstrated by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Trump’s slip, however, really isn’t all that exceptional, even if it is egregious. It’s just one more falsehood on the heap of untrue claims the Trump administration has made about the wall. Take it from former Mexican president Vicente Fox: Mexico will “never pay for that f---ing wall.”
Thumbnail © Tomas Castelazo, www.tomascastelazo.com / Wikimedia Commons