Written by Aldo Gonzalez
With 84 Lumber’s Super Bowl ad prompting anger and tears, Trump’s wall is in the spotlight yet again. A cornerstone of Trump’s campaign, democratic opposition has portrayed the wall as an impractical symbol of xenophobia. Many inquire whether a border wall project is worth it, as a decrease in the undocumented population indicates waning economic prospects in the States. Concerns intensify as the focus turns to sources of funding for the project. Earlier in the year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) forecasted its cost to be between $12 billion to $15 billion. Moreover, President Trump has repeatedly stated that Mexico would finance the wall regardless of its willingness.
With nearly $25 billion in remittances transferred into Mexico from the United States every year, President Trump has suggested capturing remittances as payments for the wall—a controversial proposition, especially in California, as most of the $25 billion originates from its large Mexican immigrant population. With relationships between Trump and California Democrats already hostile, such a move would mobilize the wrath of California’s legal arm, Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
Recruited by California Governor Jerry Brown to replace junior Senator Kamala Harris as the State Attorney General, Becerra promises to battle President Trump on issues such as sanctuary cities and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids. The former Congressman’s legal ire represents an implicit cost associated with the building of the wall: setting off a chain reaction of legal challenges that may catalyze a cold war with California Democrats.
Another method of indirect funding under discussion is the border adjustment tax. The most recent conversations regarding such a tax emerged after Mexico’s President Nieto canceled a White House visit as a result of Trump’s insistence that Mexico will pay for the wall, with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer citing the tax as an option being considered to make Mexico pay for the wall. Criticism ensued, directed at the White House as economists stated that the American consumer would bear the burden of a value-added tax. When combined with the desire for NAFTA negotiations or complete repeal, spoken of by the Trump administration alone, the implementation of a border-adjustment tax could spark a trade war between the two countries, placing tremendous stress on relations between them.
Taking a step back, what exactly would the southern wall look like? Simply put, the United States’ southern border grazes four states California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas; in turn spanning 2,000 miles.
In 2006, Congress passed the Secure Fence Act, authorizing 700 miles of double-layered fencing along this border. Today, 670 miles of single-layer fencing stand completed, with only about half of that distance served by double-layered fencing. Its construction faced legal challenges along with skepticism about whether the financial lengths were worth it. Completing these 670 miles of single-layered fencing alone has cost $2.4 billion.
There also exists an overlooked nuance that adds to the wall’s price tag: human and technological resource requirements. Specifically, a border wall demands an increase in the amount of border agents, detention facilities, and surveillance systems. According to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan migration policy think tank, the United States spent nearly $18 billion on federal immigration enforcement efforts, amassing a Border Patrol budget that has grown from $1.4 billion in 2002 to $3.8 billion in 2015.
President Trump may have complicated the legislative process further by promising healthcare reform, tax overhaul, increased defense spending, increased border security, and infrastructure spending— an agenda that demands significant federal spending and considerable tax cuts. This fiscal quandary adds another implicit cost on the table of border wall talks.
No matter where President Trump claims the money will come from, federal deficits will not emerge unscathed.